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  • Day491

    Stone Town

    March 1, 2020 in Tanzania ⋅ ☁️ 28 °C

    Even though Tanganyika merged with the Zanzibar Archipelago in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, Zanzibar still considers itself almost independent, or at least the leader.
    One claim to fame is that it held the shortest war in history. The Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 lasted less than an hour, between 38 and 45 minutes.
    It was the usual story of gun-boat diplomacy and closely followed the Imperial rules of engagement:
    1. Sultan appoints a successor without consulting the British
    2. Miffed British Consul demands appointment of a more tractable puppet, Hamud bin Muhammed
    3. Sultan disdains option
    4. Royal Navy has some target practice on the Sultan's Palace; 4,100 machine gun rounds; 1,000 rifle rounds; and 500 shells were launched.
    5. Hamud found to be a worthy successor.
    6. War ends
    Now the town is invaded by hordes of unsuitably or partially dressed tourists flouting local sensibilities in the humid 34 degree heat.
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    One building, now the home of the Baraza La Manispaa Mjini or Municipal Council, is noteworthy for being "generally considered one of J.H. Sinclair's less-significant works"; perhaps not surprising for a man who after finishing his apprenticeship in 1891 joined the prestigious architectural office of John L. Pearson in London but "showed no great promise as an architect".
    Since he couldn't be an architect John Houston Sinclair became something in a new financial audit department of the Foreign Office in December 1893. They quickly shunted him off to East Africa to become the the local auditor for the East African Protectorate in Kenya, beginning a career in East Africa that would span 29 years.
    After three years in Mombassa he was posted to Zanzibar in April 1899 where, not learning from experience he built a number of structures in Stone Town, in a style described as "Saracenic," a mish-mash of Arabic, Portugese, Italian, Greek, Indian and Gothic vernaculars.
    The building was commissioned by a rich rich Indian merchant, Mohamedbhai Sheikh Hoosenbhai, who belonged to a Bohora family. Begun in 1922 and completed in 1923 it was originally a tenement block for clients of varying status, located in the Malindi Quarter of Stone Town on the edge of the creek that divided Stone Town from Ng'ambo. Thus, it is all facade and the rear is virtually undecorated.
    This is evident from the rent records that the owner's family occasionally occupied the building when tenants were scarce. In an effort to secure higher rent, the building was leased to the Senior British members of the Zanzibar protectorate probably around 1925, after JHS concluded his his time in Africa having reached the pinnacle of his career in the position of Resident from 1922-1924.
    Stone Town is now on the World Heritage list, with access to international funding to restore significant buildings. The canny Town Council now describe Bharmal Building as a beautiful, historic edifice exemplifying the rich Zanzibar fusion of Oriental and Romanesque architecture and plans are afoot for its restoration.
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