Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Stone Town, Zanzibar, experienced about 40 minutes of British bombardment in 1896.
Stone Town, Zanzibar (part of Tanzania), designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, hosts an impressive mix of architectural styles. Much of its building stock dates back to the 19th century, when the town experienced a building boom after Sultan Said bin Sultan moved his seat from Muscat, Oman to Stone Town, helping to transform it into a trade hub (mostly for spices and slaves).
Zanzibar became a British protectorate in 1890, but when pro-British Sultan Hamad died on August 25, 1896, his nephew, 29 year-old Khalid bin Bargash (who was also suspected by some of Hamad's assassination) assumed power without British approval. His rebellion quickly led to the world's shortest war.
On August 27, 1896, three British ships fired simultaneously at the Beit-al-Ajaib (or "House of Wonders") palace at 9 a.m. Around 9:40 a.m., shelling ceased, the palace consumed by fire and the Sultan's flag cut down. Sultan Khalid managed to escape but 500 Zanzibari men and women were either killed or wounded during the brief war, most as a result of the fire that consumed the palace. One British troop was wounded.
Eventually gaining independence from the British in 1963, Zanzibar is now a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania. As for Beit-al-Ajaib, it was rebuilt and remains Stone Town's tallest building. It's now used as a museum dedicated to the history and culture of Zanzibar and the Swahili coast.