Museums


Palace Museum

The palace was built in late 19th century to serve as a residence for the Sultan’s family. After the Zanzibar Revolution, in 1964 it was formally renamed to People's Palace. In 1994, it became a museum about the Zanzibari royal family and history. The ground floor displays details of the formative period of the sultanate from 1828 to 1870 during which commercial treaties were signed between Zanzibar, United States of America, Britain and France. Inside the museum is the memorabilia of Princess Salme, best known as Emily Ruete, former Zanzibari princess who fled from the sultanate to relocate in Europe with her husband; the exhibits include some of her writings, clothes and daily life accessories. The exhibits on the 2nd floor focus on the period of affluence from 1870 to 1896 during which modern amenities such as piped water and electricity were introduced to Zanzibar under Sultan Barghash. The third floor consists of the modest living quarters of Sultan Khalifa bin Haroub (1911 to 1960) and his two wives, both of whom clearly had different tastes in furniture. For the first time, visitors can see much of the Sultans’ furniture and other possessions that survived the revolution.

Zanzibar National Museum of History & Culture

The House of Wonders (Beit-al-Ajaib) is a very large square-shaped building, with several stories, surrounded by tiers of pillars and balconies, and topped by a large clock tower. It was built in 1883 as a ceremonial palace for Sultan Barghash and was the first in Zanzibar to have electric light and an electric lift. Not surprisingly, when it was built, the local people called it Beit el Ajaib, meaning the House of Wonders. It was damaged in 1896 during the Shortest War in History (only lasting 40 minutes), the palace was the target of British bombardments intended to force the Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, who had tried to seize the throne after the death Sultan Hamad, to abdicate in favour of a British nominee.

After its rebuild, Sultan Hamad, who ruled Zanzibar from 1902 to 1911, used its upper floor as a residential palace until his death. Nowadays the house is used a National Museum of History & Culture. Inside it houses exhibits on the dhow culture of the Indian Ocean (ground floor) and on Swahili civilisation and 19th-century Zanzibar (1st floor). Everything is informatively labelled in English and Swahili, and well worth visiting. Just inside the entrance is a life-size mtepe – a traditional Swahili sailing vessel made without nails, the planks held together with only coconut fibres and wooden pegs. The building is undergoing major repair and it’s closed at the moment.

Peace Memorial Museum

The Peace Memorial Museum (Beit el Amani) was designed by the British architect J H Sinclair, who also designed the high court, the British residency and several other public buildings around Zanzibar town. The beautiful spherical design of the National Museum acknowledges Zanzibar's Arab influence and is reminiscent of the eastern architecture of Istanbul and India. It is a great place to discover the intriguing history and culture of the islands. The Peace Memorial Museum contains exhibits and records which make up the rich history of Zanzibar, from the early days of the Omani Sultans and the British colonial period right up until independence. This magnificent structure houses old and new history books, a selection of archaeological findings, plus records of early trade, slavery, palaces, mosques, sultans, explorers and missionaries, in addition to exhibits of traditional crafts, stamps and coins.