Lest we forget, Zanzibar, Oman share a rich past

Friday January 01 2021

The House of Wonders (Beit-al-Ajaib) is the face of Unguja Island and dates back more than 128 years. PHOTO | COURTESY


As one approaches the gate of Malindi port, the House of Wonders (Beit-al-Ajaib) captivates you.

The beautiful Beit-al-Ajaib, the face of Unguja Island and a major tourist attraction, has a very rich history. It is one of the impressive structures in Zanzibar that will be rehabilitated and turned into a museum.

The government of Zanzibar and the Sultanate of Oman has signed an agreement for preserving heritage with a focus on the Beit-al-Ajaib historical Palace, due to the shared heritage between Zanzibar and Oman.

The President of Zanzibar, Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi, received the agreement and signed it in his office in the presence of Heritage Under-Secretary Ibrahim bin Said Al-Kharousi from Oman.

The meeting laid emphasis on cooperation between the Sultanate and Zanzibar in the field of heritage and ways to preserve it. They also signed the foundation document of museum aspects of Beit-al-Ajaib historical palace.

The meeting comes as part of Al Kharousi's tour of Zanzibar to inspect the Beit-al-Ajaib maintenance and restoration project, being undertaken by the Ministry of Heritage and Tourism.


Palace Museum

Beit-al-Ajaib is more than 128 years and has more than 40 pillars.

In 1913, the British converted the building into the local government offices and the offices lasted until independence. Between 1964 and 1977 the building was used as a memorial for Afro-Shirazi Party and Serikali ya Mapinduzi ya Zanzibar and became the only place to see Zanzibar's late President Abeid Karume's cars.

House of Wonders is one of the six palaces of the second sultan of Zanzibar, Barghash bin Said and was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity.

According to Leila Mohamed Mussa, Zanzibar Minister of Tourism and Antiquities, the Beit-al-Ajaib building is very important for the development of tourism in the country.

It was constructed for ceremonial purposes by Sultan Barghash in 1883. In its peak, Beit-al-Ajaib boasted marble floors, panelled walls, and never-before-seen electricity and running water – hence its name. Then in 2012, after years of abandonment, a large section of balconies shrunken, closing the building's interior to the public.

The use of the building has been changing depending on the changes of the administration in the islands.

Mr Al Kharousi's delegation were briefed on progress of work and met officials tasked with the project. They also visited the Palace Museum, the old fort, the Sultani cemetery, Al Salam Museum, the Natural History Museum, Mtoni Palace ruins, and Al Marhubi Palace.