The historical Zanzibar Door

In Stone Town, Zanzibar, there were 806 wooden doors dating from the era of Sultan Barghash (1870-1880). Designs emanate from Arabic and Indian influences.

The rectangular Arab door is encased in an intricately carved frame with the outermost strip of the frame carved into chains symbolic of the enslavement of evil spirits trying to enter the residence. The inner frame is carved with lotus flowers or palm leaves with a fish below. Above the door panels is a frieze arved with rosettes, often inscribed with the name of the house owner, a verse from the Koran and the date of carving. The central post between the doors is lso carved. Often the door panels have conical brass bosses which are an ornamental version of spikes originally intended to prevent battering by elephants.

Zanzibar Door

The Indian or Gugerati style door is usually simpler, featuring square coffered panels with a thin central carved post. Many of these doors have folding panels originating from their use in bazaar shops.

A hybrid of the styles features a semi-circular upper part which is often carved with a representation of the Hindu Tree of Life sprouting from a central vase.

Zanzibar Door

In the 1980s it was realised that many of the old doors were being removed and exported, threatening the cultural heritage of Stone Town, and it was feared that the art and craft of carving would be lost. To prevent this, the Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority was formed, and to date it has been successful in preserving these magnificently carved, world-renowned, doors as part of a World Heritage Site.