The history of ZanzibarTravellers, traders, raiders and colonizers from around the world have been drawn to Zanzibar throughout the centuries, Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Malays, Persians, Portuguese, Arabs, Dutch and the British have all set foot on the island's beautiful white beaches, each leaving behind a different legacy. The original inhabitants of the island were the Bantu, who probably migrated from the mainland across an ancient land bridge. By AD 700, the first Muslim influence had been established on Zanzibar as Arabs sailing from the Gulf, via the trade winds, began to settle there. By 1107 the first coral stone mosque was built at Kizimkazi in the south west. The Arabs, many from the Oman, intermarried freely with the locals to form the foundations of the Swahili people. The Shirazi, settlers from the Persian Gulf arrived around AD 1200, adding yet another ingredient to the Zanzibar melting pot.
Portuguese controlIn 1498, the Portuguese were the first European power to gain control of Zanzibar, and kept it for nearly 200 years. In 1652 the Omani Arabs sacked Zanzibar and in 1698 the Portuguese surrendered Mombasa to them.
Under the Sultans of OmanIn 1698, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman with a ruling Arab elite and a thriving economy based on trade and cash crops. Plantations were developed to grow spices and a flourishing ivory trade also developed using tusks from elephants in the African interior. Stone Town, Zanzibar's main city was also the main trading port for the East African slave trade, dealing with around 50,000 slaves a year.
At this time, the Sultan of Zanzibar controlled a substantial portion of the East African coast, which was then known as Zanj, and which included Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. It also included trading routes which extended much further inland, such as to Kindu on the Congo River.
The shortest war in historyGradually, however, Zanzibar came under the control of the British, partly as a result of the political impetus for the 19th century movement for the abolition of the slave trade. The relationship between Britain and the nearest relevant colonial power, Germany, was formalized by the 1890 Helgoland-Zanzibar Treaty, in which Germany pledged not to interfere with British interests in insular Zanzibar. That year, Zanzibar became a British protectorate (1890 to 1913). At first, traditional Viziers were appointed as ‘puppet' governors by the British; between 1913 and 1963 British governors were appointed. The succession of a sultan of whom the British did not approve led to the Anglo-Zanzibar War. On the morning of 27 August 1896, ships of the Royal Navy destroyed the Beit al Hukum Palace; a cease fire was declared 38 minutes later, and the bombardment subsequently became known as ‘The Shortest War in History'.
Independence, 1963The islands gained independence from Britain in December 1963 as a constitutional monarchy. A month later, the bloody Zanzibar Revolution, in which thousands of Arabs and Indians were killed, established the Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. That April, the republic merged with the mainland former colony of Tanganyika, or more accurately, was subsumed by the much larger entity. This United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was soon renamed the United Republic of Tanzania, of which Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.