Walking through the narrow alleys and streets in Stone Town one cannot help but notice the beautifully carved doors. Some are well kept and lovingly polished or varnished while others are in various states of disrepair.
These doors intrigued me and I took many photos to the frustration of my travelling companions who had to stop and wait while I took yet another photo. It was noticeable that certain types of door were to be seen grouped together. Little did I know at the time that the pattern and carving on the door served as a business card proclaiming the status, wealth and trade of the people living and working within.
There are mainly two types of doors in Stone Town Zanzibar.
Indian type doors with square shutters which can easily fold are mostly found along the busy bazaar streets where business men work and live.
Another type of Indian door is the Punjabi door. These doors are distinguished by the arched top of the frame, and heavy brass studs that jut out from the panelling. Indians protected their houses from war elephants this way and when the merchants moved to Zanzibar, they continued the tradition regardless of the absence of war elephants on the spice islands.
Arab doors are richly decorated and carved. They are mostly rectangular in shape and sometimes have an inscription from the Holy Quran on the top frieze.
The symbols on the doors are complex and easy to miss, which unfortunately I did, as I was not fully aware of their meaning.
These are the symbols which I encountered.
Flowers symbolized families. Every flower found on the top of a door indicated a family living there, with often many distinct families living in the same building.
Geometric squares Geometric designs indicated that the owner was a proficient mathematician and offered his services as an accountant.
Fish scales indicates that the owner either traded fish or was a fisherman.
Vines indicated that owner dealt in the spice trade. Floral vines were appropriate symbols as pepper, vanilla and other spices grow this way.
Rectangular Arabic doors
Arched frame top
For more information read here http://www.mambomagazine.com/nutshell-guides/tradition/the-doors
These doors seemed to me to be works of art and became even more so when we visited the Door Factory on the way to Paje.
Here the doors are still made with hand tools, a skill that is passed down from generation to generation even today.The patterns are sketched on the wood and then cut painstakingly by hand as these pictures illustrate. Doors are made mainly from mahogany and blackwood.