Visit Mtoni Palace Ruins on Your Zanzibar Holiday

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Enjoy an experience of a lifetime at the Mtoni Palace every Tuesday and Friday for the Concert & Dinner. The evening begins with a guided tour around the Palace, which is then followed by a concert of traditional melodies & performances.

During the interlude, a grilled Zanzibari Buffet will delight the appetite. Leave with memories of a “magical night”.

Beit el Mtoni literally means The Palace by the stream. The palace owes this name to its beautiful location on the western shore of Zanzibar. It is one of the oldest buildings of Zanzibar and it was the largest palace on the island during the reign of Sultan Sayyid Said, who moved the capital of his Omani empire form Muscat to Zanzibar during the first half of the 19th century.

At that time, over a thousand people lived in the palace and its direct surroundings. But around the 1880s the palace was abandoned and fell into ruin.

Although severely deteriorated, Mtoni Palace still offers visitors a glimpse into the world of the Arabian royalty once living there.
Entering the palace from the coast line, one steps into the former reception hall. Most guests would not go any further when visiting Beit el Mtoni, since the women in the palace were not to be seen by stranger’s eyes.

But now, visitors can step over the threshold and walk in the footsteps of the Omani household. A visit continues into the inner courtyard, the palace garden and the well preserved bathing complex. One row of baths was used by the courtiers, whereas a separate domed aisle was uniquely reserved for the use of the Sultan and his first spouse.

Princess Salme

One of the most famous inhabitants of Zanzibar was Sayyida Salme. Beit el Mtoni is strongly connected with her story, since it is the place where she was born. Salme, one of the many daughters of Sultan Said, became world famous as Emily Ruete, the Arabian princess who fell in love with the German merchant Rudolph Heinrich Ruete.

The couple eloped to Hamburg, which meant that Salme had to say farewell to Zanzibar. In her beautiful book Memoirs of an Arabian Princess Salme, or Emily as she was called later after being baptized a Christian, wrote down her memories of the bristling Mtoni Palace during her youth, and the decay she encountered many years later, when she returned to Zanzibar one last time.

Mtoni Palace is one of the main Omani palaces of the island. A combined visit to Beit el Mtoni, Beit el Sahel (now the Palace Museum) Beit al-Ajaib (the House of Wonders) and Maruhubi Palace is highly recommended to acquire a complete image of the Omani history of Zanzibar.

Considering the high level of decay in some parts of the palace, restoration activities have taken place to warrant the safety of visitors. However, during these activities all original details have been safeguarded, so the authenticity of the palace has remained intact.

The Persian Baths as described by Princess Salme (From ‘Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar’ by Emily Reute)

The so-called “Persian” bath stood apart from the rest; it was really a Turkish bath, and there was no other in Zanzibar. Each bath-house contained two basins of about four yards by three, the water reaching to the breast of a grownup person.

This resort was highly popular with the residents of the palace, most of whom were in the habit of spending several hours a day there, saying their prayers, doing their work, reading, sleeping, or even eating and drinking.

From four o’clock in the morning until twelve at night there was constant movement; the stream of people coming and leaving never ceased.

Entering one of the bath-houses – they were all built on the same plan – you beheld two raised platforms, one at the right and one at the left, laid with finely woven matting, for praying or simply resting on. Anything in the way of luxury, such as a carpet, was forbidden here.

Whenever the Mahometan says his prayers he is supposed to put on a special garment, perfectly clean – white if possible – and used for no other purpose. Of course this rather exacting rule is obeyed only by the extremely pious.

Narrow colonnades ran between the platforms and the basins, which were uncovered except for the blue of heaven. Arched stone bridges and steps led to other, entirely separate apartments. Each bath-house had its own public; for, be it known, a severe system of caste ruled at Bet il Mtoni, rigidly observed by high and low.

Visiting the site

Because of safety reasons, the site can only be visited accompanied by a guide. Tickets can be bought at the site. Mtoni Palace is situated next to Mtoni Marine Centre. Toilets and refreshments are available there.

Concert & Dinner

The Concert & Dinner at Mtoni Palace, happens every Tuesday and Friday evening. The evening starts with a guided tour around the Palace, followed by a concert of traditional melodies and dances, whilst candles and incense are re-creating the magical atmosphere of 1001 Nights and during the interlude a grilled Zanzibarian buffet will delight the appetite.

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