Historical Tours | Princess Salme | Princess Salme Spice Tour | Sunset Concerts | Mtoni Palace Conservation Project

> Latest Newsletter - AUGUST 2010


> Nov  2010  |  Youtube  |   Mezzotono. Concert at Mtoni Palace in Zanzibar

> Nov  2010  |   in2eastafrica.net   |   A Spirited concert in Mtoni Palace Ruins, Zanzibar

> 2009  |  Swahili Coast  |  Beit el Mtoni
Beit el Mtoni literally means The Palace by the stream. The palace owes this name to its beautiful location on the western shore of Zanzibar. It is one of the oldest buildings of Zanzibar and it was the largest palace on the island during the reign of Sultan Sayyid Said, who moved the capital of his Omani empire form Muscat to Zanzibar during the first half of the 19th century. At that time, over a thousand people lived in the palace and its direct surroundings. But around the 1880s the palace was abandoned and fell into ruin.

Although severely deteriorated, Mtoni Palace still offers visitors a glimpse into the world of the Arabian royalty once living there.
Entering the palace from the coast line, one steps into the former reception hall. Most guests would not go any further when visiting Beit el Mtoni, since the women in the palace were not to be seen by stranger’s eyes. But now, visitors can step over the threshold and walk in the footsteps of the Omani household. A visit continues into the inner courtyard, the palace garden and the well preserved bathing complex. One row of baths was used by the courtiers, whereas a separate domed aisle was uniquely reserved for the use of the Sultan and his first spouse.

Princess Salme

One of the most famous inhabitants of Zanzibar was Sayyida Salme. Beit el Mtoni is strongly connected with her story, since it is the place where she was born. Salme, one of the many daughters of Sultan Said, became world famous as Emily Ruete, the Arabian princess who fell in love with the German merchant Rudolph Heinrich Ruete. The couple eloped to Hamburg, which meant that Salme had to say farewell to Zanzibar. In her beautiful book Memoirs of an Arabian Princess Salme, or Emily as she was called later after being baptized a Christian, wrote down her memories of the bristling Mtoni Palace during her youth, and the decay she encountered many years later, when she returned to Zanzibar one last time.

Mtoni Palace is one of the main Omani palaces of the island. A combined visit to Beit el Mtoni, Beit el Sahel (now the Palace Museum) Beit al-Ajaib (the House of Wonders) and Maruhubi Palace is highly recommended to acquire a complete image of the Omani history of Zanzibar.

Considering the high level of decay in some parts of the palace, restoration activities have taken place to warrant the safety of visitors. However, during these activities all original details have been safeguarded, so the authenticity of the palace has remained intact. 

The Persian Baths as described by Princess Salme (From ‘Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar’ by Emily Reute)

The so-called "Persian" bath stood apart from the rest; it was really a Turkish bath, and there was no other in Zanzibar. Each bath-house contained two basins of about four yards by three, the water reaching to the breast of a grownup person.

This resort was highly popular with the residents of the palace, most of whom were in the habit of spending several hours a day there, saying their prayers, doing their work, reading, sleeping, or even eating and drinking.

From four o'clock in the morning until twelve at night there was constant movement; the stream of people coming and leaving never ceased. Entering one of the bath-houses - they were all built on the same plan - you beheld two raised platforms, one at the right and one at the left, laid with finely woven matting, for praying or simply resting on. Anything in the way of luxury, such as a carpet, was forbidden here.

Whenever the Mahometan says his prayers he is supposed to put on a special garment, perfectly clean - white if possible - and used for no other purpose. Of course this rather exacting rule is obeyed only by the extremely pious. Narrow colonnades ran between the platforms and the basins, which were uncovered except for the blue of heaven. Arched stone bridges and steps led to other, entirely separate apartments. Each bath-house had its own public; for, be it known, a severe system of caste ruled at Bet il Mtoni, rigidly observed by high and low.

Visiting the site

Because of safety reasons, the site can only be visited accompanied by a guide. Tickets can be bought at the site. Mtoni Palace is situated next to Mtoni Marine Centre. Toilets and refreshments are available there.

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Princess Salme Spice Tour
Download PDF Brochure

We start our tour at the birthplace of princess Salme; Mtoni Palace Ruins. Here we make a conservation tour around the Persian baths and the main palace. From Princess Salme’s birthplace we enjoy a 20 minute boat ride to Bububu where we are introduced to a traditional coffee ceremony with Kashata, Halua and dates next to a beautiful Omani house which once belonged to the nephew of Sultan Said (Salme’s father). Here it is said that Salme rested on her way to her Kizimbani plantations. We take a stroll around the lush gardens and the impressive ruins. (Please note that this house is now a private hotel and not accessible if guests are staying.)

After our coffee ceremony, we travel from Bububu to Kidichi by Donkey Cart like Princess Salme used to. We visit the spice area to go on a spice tour at Mzee Yussuf’s plantation. On this plantation stands a beautiful old rest house which used to belong to Sultan Majid (Salme’s brother) who later sold it to Mzee Yussuf’s grand grand father.

Mzee Yussuf’s wife will prepare traditional Pilau, fish masala, roast of meat, stewed bananas, kachumbari salad, several vegetarian dishes, an array of fruits, fresh fruit juice and spice tea. This special lunch is taken amidst of the spice plantations overlooking the Indian Ocean and even Stone Town! (Highest point in Zanzibar)

After lunch we visit the impressive Persian baths in Kidichi which were built for Sultan Said’s second wife Sheherazade, who was the daughter of the Persian Shah. We now head back to Mtoni Marine by minibus enjoying the sights of Kidichi.

Tour includes:
Mtoni palace entrance fee
Boat ride to Bububu
Coffee ceremony at Bububu house
Donkey Ride from Bububu to Kidichi
Extensive Lunch in Kidichi
Spice tour in Kidichi
Entrance fee to Persian baths Kidichi
Mzee Yussuf cutting cinnamon                 
Transfer back by minibus to Mtoni

Please make sure to book at least one day in advance in order to prepare lunch!

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Private Sunset Concert in the Courtyard of Mtoni Palace
Download PDF Brochure > Palace Tour, Sunset Concert & Dinner on the Beach

Help support the conservation of the ruins – the birthplace of Princess Salme.

We start with a tour around the Mtoni Palace and the Persian Baths followed by a Traditional Taarab Concert with Spice coffee, Lemongrass Tea and traditional sweets like Halua and Kashata. All profit goes to the Mtoni Palace Conservation Project.

Kikundi cha Taarab Kizazi Kipya (KIKI) presents a new sound of orchestral taarab music, combining modern and acoustic instruments. They are from Mahonda district, around 25 miles north of Zanzibar town, and have come under the spotlight since Dhow Countries Music Academy (DCMA Zanzibar) recently opened a branch in Mahonda. Their version of taarab is unique and lively, with a more rhythmic feel for dancing. The group was formed in 1997 and currently has twenty five musicians.

Please contact us for more information or to make a booking.

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Mtoni Palace Conservation Project

In January 2005 the long time existing public-private cooperation between the Department of Archives, Museums and Antiquities of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar (DAMA) and Mtoni Marine (MMC) was sealed by a formal agreement on a 10-year lease of the palace premises to the latter party. Mtoni Marine is one of the older tourist hotels in Zanzibar and located right next to the Mtoni Palace Ruins. DAMA and MMC both aim at preserving the oldest palace on Zanzibar. Therefore, their partnership is referred to as the Mtoni Conservation Project.

Since the early nineties of last century, maintenance and repair works have been jointly undertaken by the two above parties. The site was cleared, weeds were removed from the ruins and salvaging works have been carried out. Recently, piecemeal reconstruction of the palace baths has commenced. These works are carried out by tradesman who have followed a restoration course, and under supervision of DAMA. MMC has cleared the gardens, replanted them with original species and laid out a natural-historical trail through the grounds, which has opened the site to the public.

Although the cooperation has proven to be successful, the efforts rely on meager funds and a lot of goodwill. The available means are unfortunately not sufficient to prevent further decay of the palace. Constantly exposed to the elements, the original structure is being severely damaged.

The Mtoni Conservation Project has therefore decided to start a new project which aims at boosting the conservation budget by creating an income-generating activity: the publication of a guidebook on Mtoni Palace. ArchiAfrika has been asked to do the editing of this publication.

A guidebook for Beit el Mtoni

As a first step towards self-reliance of the Mtoni Conservation Project, a guidebook is being prepared, that will raise awareness under the public and institutions and simultaneously create revenue. The guidebook is meant for a broad public. To the envisaged readers belong tourists to Zanzibar, amateurs of African architecture and history and scholars on the subject. The book is foreseen to be distributed locally but also available abroad.

The book will consist of a historical and an architectural part. The historical essay will zoom in on the advent of Omani rule on Zanzibar, the life of Princess Salme and the decay of the palace.

The architectural part will consist of an architectural analysis of Omani architecture in a Zanzibari context, the description of the palace into detail along with a virtual reconstruction and a description of the former gardens and surroundings of the palace. Authors of the book are Professor Abdul Sheriff (historian), Gerrit Smienk (architect), Antoni Folkers (architect) and Anne-Katrien Denissen (art historian). The project is made possible through funding by the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Dar es Salaam.

Involvement TU Delft

In order to find information on the initial shape and construction of the palace, extensive research needs to be done. Therefore, the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands has been involved in the project.
Three master students of the TU Delft have decided to do their final thesis on Mtoni Palace. Karin Meijer, Susanne Pot and Xiaoguang Zhang, have traveled to Zanzibar to do research at the National Archives, to talk to local experts and execute excavations under supervision of Dr. Abdurahman M. Juma at the palace premises. The outcome of their research will be used in the Mtoni Palace Publication.

All three students will graduate on a personal design for the future use of Mtoni Palace. This could vary from a complete reconstruction of the old palace, to minimal measures for the protection of the existing ruins. The final designs will be handed over to the Mtoni Conservation Project Team and might give them new ideas for the future conservation of Mtoni Palace.

Project Team Publication
For the publication of the guidebook a project team has been created. Stefanie Schötz of Mtoni Marine Centre is the overall project coordinator on Zanzibar, representing the Mtoni Conservation Project in the project team. ArchiAfrika is represented by Antoni Folkers, chief editor of the publication, and Anne-Katrien Denissen, editing project coordinator for ArchiAfrika.

ArchiAfrika has as its first objective to put African architectural culture on the world map. It offers a platform for the exchange of news and expertise in this field. ArchiAfrika initiates and facilitates research and projects in the field of African architecture, and architecture in Africa.

On a worldwide scale there is a growing interest for the non-western approach to  contemporary architecture. An intensive dialogue is developing between Asian, South American and Western counterparts, in which the important voice of Africa is often not enough heard.

For these reasons ArchiAfrika focuses on Africa in the relation to the rest of the world through dialogue. The predominantly one-way transfer of Western knowledge has to be coupled with African expertise brought to Europe and the rest of the world. ArchiAfrika targets on the unlocking and scientific study of African architecture. This can probably contribute to help solve some of the contemporary worldwide architectonic issues on, for example, sustainability and cultural identities. Also, together with its African partner organizations ArchiAfrika works on the awareness of the value of the (modernist) African heritage and its architectural identities.

More information on ArchiAfrika can be found on their website www.archiafrika.org

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     Tel: +255 24 225 0140  |  Email: mtoni@zanzibar.cc   |  © 2008 Mtoni Marine.