Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere

By Prita Meier | Go to book overview

THREE
Architecture Out of Place
The Politics of Style in Zanzibar

The third Busaidi sultan of Zanzibar, Seyyid Barghash (r. 1870–1888), created vistas and monuments of modern vision that radically transformed the way Zanzibar Stone Town’s built environment was experienced. His reign was an era of unprecedented transcontinental competition, when would-be colonizers, financial speculators, adventurers, and merchants from all over the world converged on Zanzibar City. Zanzibar became a key node in the global market, selling cloves (produced by enslaved plantation workers) and ivory to the industrializing North and supplying African consumers with North American, South Asian, and European commodities. The Busaidi family and their business partners amassed huge fortunes as a result, and Barghash spent much of his considerable wealth building both public and private monuments; these defined the cityscape of Zanzibar from afar, eventually becoming the landmarks of the city and island.

While in many ways Barghash sought to present a fashionably “new” city to the world, his structures were a complex synthesis of old and new sign systems. This was especially the case with Beit al Ajaib, the House of Wonders (plate 11), his most ambitious architectural monument, and the focus of much of this chapter. As we shall see, the structure served not only to visualize his ambition to assert his control over the city in the face of European colonizing agendas, but also to subvert local histories and indigenous claims to the city. Further, what will become clear is that

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Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - The Place in-between 1
  • One - Difference Set in Stone Place and Race in Mombasa 26
  • Two - A "Curious" Minaret Sacred Place and the Politics of Islam 66
  • Three - Architecture out of Place the Politics of Style in Zanzibar 102
  • Four - At Home in the World Living with Transoceanic Things 139
  • Conclusion - Trading Places 179
  • Appendix 189
  • Notes 191
  • Bibliography 211
  • Index 221
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