On a recent visit to Bagamoyo to follow up on revival of the port and the Special Economic Zone, I took out a day to explore the current culture and life of this old town with a dark past as a slave port.
Bagamoyo, 75 km north of Dar es Salaam, is today a vibrant tourist town served by the same old port, which lays its claim to infamy as a landing for slavery ships to and from the Middle East, where early Bagamoyo settlers came from.
The town’s architecture and general layout still exudes its history as a settlement by foreigners with the Kaole Ruins, Caravan Serai Museum, the German Boma (fort), the Catholic Church Mission, the oldest in the region and commercial buildings retaining old influences.
It takes about two and a half-hours drive through a smooth, tarmac road from Dar es Salaam city centre to Bagamoyo at peak traffic time but on weekends, you can shave off one hour.
According to official tourist data, Bagamoyo attracts about 300 visitors per day, mostly in transit to the Saadani National Park 240 km away. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the flow of tourists, because most of them are foreign.
There are several hotels and guesthouses around town, but visitors could also opt to stay in Dar es Salaam, which is accessible by commuter buses plying between the two places.
Bagamoyo is not all just about old things, for the town has as modern attractions, private crocodile and snake farms. The town also has something for the spiritual, albeit, of the occult type.
A visit is apparently not complete without a quick tour of Mlingotini, a nearby village with special cultural attachment to the people of Bagamoyo. The towns people believe that Mlingotini has the best witchcraft practioners on the Tanzanian coast. Now you know.
Back to the regular touristic trail though, is the German Customs house, right on the beach, built in 1895, as the first taxman’s office in Tanzania.
The slave trade trails and the history of early Christianity in this part of the region are probably the biggest crowd pullers of thousands of local visitors.
The Catholic Church in Bagamoyo, established by the Spiritans (Holy Ghost Congregation) in March 1868 holds a rich history of the beginning of Christianity in Tanzania and now a museum is a favourite destination with school parties and women church groups paying pilgrimage here. The big cross still marks the historical site.
The museum was opened to the public in 1964 and is the depository of historical, religious and cultural heritage insights of the Christian faith in Tanzania and Central Africa.
It also attracts local and international pilgrims, students, researchers holiday and study tour groups.
The Catholic mission
According to Emmanuel Masunga, a professional tour guide in Bagamoyo, between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors from different parts of Tanzania visit the Catholic mission to explore the history of the Catholic Church, now the biggest Christian congregation in Tanzania.
The Catholic Mission compound is free to all visitors, and its beachfront an attractive picnic site. A huge baobab tree planted in 1868 to mark the official opening of the Catholic Mission is also a major attraction.
The tree still holds the chain where famous explorers and missionaries to these parts secured their horses and donkeys while visiting the church for prayer.
The Mission compound also features the Livingstone Tower, at a spot where the body of pioneer explorer Dr David Livingstone was rested for 24 hours in 1874 on its way to England for burial.
Attractive places worth visiting are the Old Forts, old Customs House and Kaole Ruins, remains of the 13th Century Shirazi (Persian) settlement.
The Kaole ruins have two mosques and 22 tombs built from coral.