What would be an old town without a fortress? Well, Zanzibar is no exception, with its magnificent Old Fort or Ngome Kongwe, as it is known by the locals. Situated on the seafront in the heart of Stone Town, the old city centre of Zanzibar, the fortress was built between 1698 and 1701 by the Busaidi Omani Arabs on the former site of a Portuguese church and of an older Omani fortress, the remains of which still show through the walls in the main courtyard as if telling the story of the place in Palimpsest fashion.
The Old Fort of Zanzibar is one of the main attractions of the Stone Town and the ideal starting point for first-time visitor to the cultural capital of Tanzania. The purpose of the fort was to defend the island against the attacks of the Portuguese and their Mazrui allies. Centuries later it served as a prison and barracks. At the beginning of the 20th century it was also used as a depot during the construction of the railway connecting Stone Town to the village of Bububu.
Serving multiple purposes in the course of history, the Zanzibar fortification is square in shape, its high, brown walls provided with merlons being disposed around an inner courtyard.
The courtyard of the Old Fort has been adapted over time to serve as a cultural centre, with curio shops selling souvenirs like tingatinga paintings. If you’re looking forward to a live show, you can enjoy live music and dance shows, which are held regularly almost every evening in the open-air amphitheatre of the fort. In case you get hungry, there’s a restaurant just a stone-throw away as well as a tourist information desk if you need guidance. The amphitheatre also hosts major events such as the Festival of the Dhow Countries (also known as the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF)) and the Sauti za Busara (African music festival).