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.


View Larger Map

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.

"The palace at Zanzibar Town after the Anglo-Zanzibar war" image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The masts of a sunken ship from the war can be seen in this panorama taken in 1902. The House of Wonders is the white building with a tower and many balconies in the middle of the photograph. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of yellow vest protesters in Paris, France.
    Equity

    To Understand American Political Anger, Look to ‘Peripheral France’

    French geographer Christophe Guilluy has a controversial diagnosis of working-class resentment in the age of Trump, Brexit, and the Yellow Vests.

  2. Design

    How 'Maintainers,' Not 'Innovators,' Make the World Turn

    We need more stories about the labor that sustains society, a group of scholars say.

  3. A man walks by an abandoned home in Youngstown, Ohio
    Life

    How Some Shrinking Cities Are Still Prospering

    A study finds that some shrinking cities are prosperous areas with smaller, more-educated populations. But they also have greater levels of income inequality.

  4. A cat lays flat on a bench at a park on the outskirts of Tokyo.
    Life

    Why Don't Americans Use Their Parks At Night?

    Most cities aren’t fond of letting people use parks after dark. But there are good lifestyle, environmental, and safety reasons to reconsider.

  5. Transportation

    Why New York City Stopped Building Subways

    Nearly 80 years ago, a construction standstill derailed the subway’s progress, leading to its present crisis. This is the story, decade by decade.

×