In the city of Stone Town on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania, one thing you’ll find most everywhere is amazing doors! Some of them are from back in the 1800’s, though most are a bit more modern – regardless, the carving on them is spectacular! I really, really, really recommend clicking on the photos to see the carvings bigger as the detail is mighty impressive!
Zanzibar is an amazing mix of cultures. It’s known as an area where Arabs, Indians, colonial Europeans and Africans mixed as a central point for the African slave trade; a tragic history that is evident absolutely everywhere you go on the island. Even many of the doors hold this history with carvings of chain-links which meant that the one-time occupants possessed and traded slaves. The carvings in general told about the families and their vocations. A flower carved on a door indicated a distinct family unit lived there – many flowers meant many families lived in the same space. Rope carving (like rope on a fishing net) = fisherman; Vines = spice traders; Squares = someone who liked math or an accountant; and Beads = jeweler. I guess if we had a door it would have beads, squares (for a love of engineering) and cookies carved into it (cookies for obvious reasons!).
Arabian doors were originally flat on top, while later ones often have a classic arching top design with a quotation from the Quran carved in.
Indian doors are particularly known for the spikes coming out of the doors themselves. The story goes that Indians used to use elephants for travelling around (and war!) and occasionally the elephants liked to rub against the doors (on safari we saw the destructive effect where they had rubbed against trees!). To deter them, the Indians added the spikes which, unsurprisingly, the elephants didn’t like to rub their heads against! There never were elephants on Zanzibar, though, so this must have just been brought over as a decorative idea!
Many of the doors have these huge chains dangling off that can be hooked to a ring on the ground to lock the door closed.
I have to say, they sure knew how to do some amazing carving there on Zanzibar!
I’ll stick with imagining the world behind these magical doors instead!