UPDATED AUGUST 2021
Ornate carved doors are common in many parts of India. But I have never seen such a profusion in any one place as I did in Stone Town, Zanzibar.
The Zanzibar doors – stark contrasts to the drab, peeling walls they grace – are impossible to miss anywhere you turn. All striking reminders of the cultural melting pot that is Stone Town and of the affluence it once enjoyed.
The tradition of carved doors was originally borrowed from immigrant Indian trading communities and later transformed into an eclectic, homegrown Swahili aesthetic.
Gujarati and Omani are the two main styles. The former are simpler with square coffered panels and folding shutters, and usually conceal shopfronts with residential quarters on the floor above. Much like traders houses of the early nineteenth century back in Gujarat, India.
The Zanzibar/Omani doors are grander. They sport ornate square lintels with Quranic inscriptions and are usually adorned with decorative metal studs and spikes mimicking the defensive spikes on Indian fortress doors.
Elaborate curved lintels top a third distinctly hybrid style.
Less than 800 original Zanzibar doors remain today, most dating back to the late 18th, and 19th centuries. They were deemed cultural heritage in 1980 and are protected by the Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority.
98 thoughts on “Zanzibar Doors – Relics Of Stone Town’s Affluent Past”
These are great. I love the one with the hats and fruit.
Thank’s Mani. That little shop is one of my favourites too.
Thank you for your visit and comment Bill. Have a great day!
They were truly beautiful. Thank you for stopping by Lisa.
I love those doors. It’s a shame they don’t make them like this any longer. Doors symbolize so many things. Thank you for yet another treat, my dear Madhu! 🙂
You are most welcome MaArina. They do make carved doors on the island for sale, but somehow they do not look the same.
A door lovers paradise, dream thresholds!
Indeed Gilly 🙂
I had loved Zanzibar and your post brought back lovely memories. Thank you.
Glad this stirred fond memories. Thank you for reading.
Great images, very informative post, Madhu 🙂
Thank you Sue 🙂
These are so beautiful! I do love the doors in Oman and can see the similarities here. Interesting post 🙂
Thank you Lynda. Have a great day! 🙂
Exotic and fascinating…incites my wanderlust 🙂
That is good to hear Anette. Thank you for stopping by to tell me 🙂
The doors are beautiful Madhu – I’ll be pinning some to my ‘Doors’ board on Pinterest 🙂
Thank you Suzanne. Shall pop over later to take a look at your boards 🙂
Thank you Cornelia. Pleasure to see you here 🙂
Ha , ha, appreciate the thumbs up Jake! 🙂
wow, very old and beautiful door!
They were really beautiful. Thank you for your visit and comment 🙂
Such beautiful works of art, Madhu. How sad to see the decay all around. It must have been so magnificent once upon a time.
It must have been Sylvia! Made me long for the possibility of time travel 🙂
Lovely! I have this thing for doors and windows. 🙂
Me too. One of my very first posts was on the same subject. Thank you for your stopping by to share your thoughts 🙂
This is a beautiful collection of doors, Madhu. I have a huge collection of photos of Omani doors from my two years in Oman. I am always attracted to doors wherever I travel. 🙂
Thank you. Me too Cathy. I remember seeing some of the Omani doors on your old blog.
Beautiful! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to go someday!
Thanks Kelly. Have no doubt you will get there eventually 🙂
Beautiful doors, and I love your explanation of the origin of the doors. Well research.
Thank you for sharing it with us….
You are most welcome Nina. Thank you for reading.
it’s beautiful! Zanzibar is at the top of my list of places to visit 🙂 (hopefully soon!)
I hope you do get to visist soon Saajida. Our focus was the safari, but we did enjoy Zanzibar equally.
You visit some really interesting places. I wish I’d made it to that place in my travel years.
You have done pretty well yourself Ian! 🙂
Wonderful art and designs. You have captured them beautifully, Madhu! 🙂
Thanks Nandini 🙂
They were complicated details Pauline. Especially the curved lintels.
The doors are filled with art and history lessons. Lovely captures, Madhu. I believe we have some of the same shots.
I am sure you do, considering most of these doors are concentrated around Baghnani street. Ron’s photo of the two little girls in white is my favourite from his Zanzibar gallery.
Beautiful doorways – love seeing the designs up close and how solid they are. Today doors are thin and lack character of a past.
True. But imagine how much doors such as these would cost today!
That is so true. I’ve priced out some heavy wrought iron doors, that alone stopped me in my tracks and research on heavy wood doors wasn’t any better. These beautiful old relics need to be preserved.
Nice to hear the story behind this beautiful work of art 🙂
So hard to spot such delicate carvings still surviving in India, apart from temples.
You are right. Chettinad had quite a tradition in carved woodwork. Haven’t been there in a while though. Time to plan a trip.
If you are a Non-vegetarian, you will have a great time trying Chettinad style food also 🙂
I really like their spicy preparations 🙂
Me too 🙂
Excellent doorways .. reminds me of our old old house back in the village has the side door almost like the one in the first pic
A side door that ornate? That must be quite a house! You should write a post about it Bikram 🙂 In the South ornate doors were usually reserved for temples and puja rooms.
Na its not like that, when we made a Pucca house and modernised it a bit the old things were put aside.. Now that you say maybe I should write a post on the changes I have seen..
Fantastic Madhu! I really want to go to this part of the world along with Rwanda!!!
Sounds cliched to say you would love it, but you would 🙂 Thanks Nicole.
Zanzibar is on our RTW wish-list but now even more so. These surviving carved doors are amazing, thanks Madhu!
You are most welcome. I can imagine how hard it must be to prune your RTW wish list! Still twelve months should see you fit in a fair bit. Good luck with the planning 🙂
The ornate doors gracing the drab, peeling walls makes them all the more beautiful.
I agree. They seem more striking against the decay all around. Perfect for a contrast themed challenge 🙂
What a cool photo essay. I like the graffiti on the one door and the intricate carvings on the others. The bench outside is also interesting. A nice place to hang out.
Thanks Jeff. That graffiti made me smile 🙂
Gorgeous shots Madhu! You have captured them really well…
Thank you Sid. 🙂
Such intricate and beautiful works of art!
Yes Niranjan. The newer ones didn’t look half as good.
As usual, great photos, good historical points !
Thank you very much Veena 🙂
Wow, those are some amazing doors! I love most the one that’s got a lion, a serpent and a bird (?) intertwined with each other (in the slideshow).
That particular one was very intricately carved. Those are two geese a serpent and a lion! Thank you for your visit and comment Ami.
Absolutely great photos, I totally enjoyed them and mostly I like the outdoor bench Balaza. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for stopping by to tell me Cecelia. Have a great day! 🙂
wow , just wow
🙂 Thanks James!
Really eye catching. The one with the kids is hilarious.
Thank you. Yes, they were adorable 🙂
So ornate! I’d love to live behind a door like that 🙂 Those youngsters under the bench… what a lovely shot too 🙂
Likewise Jo! 🙂
this is simply great 🙂
Thank you Joshi! 🙂
Such gorgeous detail!
They were remarkably intricate Patti.
You gave these doors so much life by giving us the historic details more so than just observing them.
I must have been a history teacher in a previous life Rommel 🙂
Wow! I love these doors and what amazing captures Madhu. Great detail and colour as well. I had to smile at the writing on the one door. It does give it character. 😆
Thanks for sharing these beautiful doors hon. The one with the beautiful carvings and cute kitty is my favourite. 😀
Thank you Sonel. I thought the graffiti added value too 😀
Wow! Very ornate and beautiful. It’s unfortunate that graffiti has marred the view of one of the doors. I do admire the intricate details and am so glad the entrances have been preserved. 😉
doors of perception 🙂
Fascinating, Madhu! This reminds me (and I am dying of curiosity) will your symbolism post be tied to a specific country or several of them, if one, which one? Please, respect my curiosity 🙂
Wonderful! The mood of the photos….the details…an eye can just wander and enjoy 🙂
Gorgeous! I can’t wait to explore and see these for myself when we visit Zanzibar very soon! 🙂
Lovely pix, Madhu!
Interesting post. The doors are one of the many things of beauty on the island. Having lived there for a number of years in the late eighties and again more recently, it is still one of my favourite places on the planet. Unfortunately uncontrolled tourism has not benefitted the majority of the Zanzibari people and poverty has many associated problems.