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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