Zanzibar rooftop Panorama (right part): the old Fort, dating from around 1875 Also the house of Princess Bibi Salme (Emily Ruete) where she fell in love with her German neighbour Heinrich Ruete is visible.

Early rooftop photos of Zanzibar old fort

One of the earliest rooftop panorama photo´s of Zanzibar stone-town dating from approx. 1875 most probably taken by Vice Consul Dr. John Kirk. The details of the interior of the old Fort are also very interesting and match the description by Osgood (see below)

The handwriting below the photo is very similar / identical to that of John Kirk. John Kirk and especially his wife helped Emily escape from Zanzibar and execution by her brother the Sultan (this was years later also confirmed in a letter by Kirk's son to Emily's son Rudolph) Emily escaped with the British ship Highflyer. John Kirk was a keen and good photographer.

Antique photo Zanzibar

Details regarding the "Old Fort" in Zanzibar

This is the right-hand part of the rooftop-panorama. This photo has probably been taken from the lighthouse next to Majid´s palace. Photo:  (16 by 10 cm) Fitted on carton.

The house of Bibi Salme where she fell in love with the German Mr Ruete can been just above the top-right tower of the fort. See slide-show for detail. Other interesting buildings are: The Old Jail and Old Barracks.

Antique photo Emily Ruete House Zanzibar

Top-right the house of princess Bibi Salme (Emily Ruete). The large white building in the background was rented from the Sultan by the German firm Hansing & Co that was represented by Heinrich Ruete. The photographer (vice consul) Dr John Kirk and his wife helped Emily escape from Zanzibar (and from execution by her brother the Sultan)

 One of the earliest photos of the Fort in Zanzibar. For comparison see the Kirk panorama (1875) in the collection of the Royal Geographic society. The fort was built between 1698 and 1701 by the Busaidi tribe  of Omani Arabs, who had gained control of Zanzibar in 1698, following almost two centuries of Portuguese occupation. The fort was used as a defence against the Portuguese and against a rival Omani group, the Mazrui, who occupied Mombasa at that time. The fort was constructed by the Busaidi Omani Arabs on the site of a Portuguese church which had been built between 1598 and 1612. In the main courtyard, remnants of the old church can still be seen built into the inside wall. In the 19th century the fort was used as a prison, and criminals were executed or punished here, at a place just outside the east wall. The Swahili word gereza, meaning prison, is thought to be derived from the Portuguese word ireja, meaning church.......

The American Joseph Osgood visited Zanzibar around 1850: "Zanzibar is fortified by a large towery castle, which faces the harbour. A Parapet mounted with a row of good artillery, affords an additional means of defence against incursion. So ruinously conditioned, however, is the fort , that a few well directed broadsides from a ship of war would destroy the whole structure. It is used as a place of confinement for criminals. Within the enclosure of the fort is quite a little village of huts , occupied by about a hundred soldiers and their families. The soldiers are slaves in part, and in part freemen. The latter are Belooches, in the service of the Imaum, under pay of four dollars per month. Their arms are matchlocks, scimitars, two-edged swords, and shields of rhinoceros hide. Many shields of this kind are turned at Zanzibar for Northern markets" 

 Chained prisoners Zanzibar

Convicts / Forced labour Zanzibar Stonetown

Photo taken by J. Sturtz 1888-1890 (Ref 6)

Ref 5 states:  These are prisoners from the fort, small thieves, disobedient servants  who for months or years will be under the Sultans care. They must now haul coral-stones, clean the camel yard and swipe the streets. With such rings and chains Bushiri had Dr. Hans Meijer and Dr. Baumann chained and kept prison for two nights and a day at his Schamba Mundo near Pangani. The black man with the thick legs next to the prisoners  is suffering from the nasty disease elephantiasis.  His feet will continue to get increasingly bigger and because the disease is incurable and will take him closer and closer to his death. I heart this already in Samoa, where the plague has spread very much"

Ref 6 in our collection states below the same photo in handwriting: "Kriegsgevangene aus Bagamojo" , meaning Prisoners of war from Bagamoyo.  

The Germans used the same chains for their prisoners as the Arabs for their slaves. But as there are no Askari soldiers present  on the photo it was probably taken in Zanzibar.

  1. Another copy of this extremely rare and early photo of Zanzibar is found in the important Oswald Album page 12 photo 2 in the Winterton collection. The specially made album also contains photos of the house of John Kirk. The album contains photos and drawings originating from the 1840´s to the 1890´s the 50 years the German firm Oswald had been operating in Zanzibar. John Kirk was also a friend of Oswald, the German firms owner.
  2. Joseph B.F. Osgood Notes of Travel or recollections of Majunga, Zanzibar, muscat, Aden, Mocha and other Eastern ports Salem 1854 page 27
  3. Baron Carl Claus von der Deckens Reisen in Ost-Afrika in den Jahren 1859 bis 1865, vol. 1, p. 113 "Bibi Holli (i.e. Chole)  ceased to be the lioness of the day and went even more quickly out of fashion when a new star rose in the Zanzibar sky. Her stepsister, the younger Bibi Salima, had blossomed in the meantime and had surpassed her rival and the object of her stepsisterly hatred [...] On moonlit nights the sultan’s little sister sat behind the iron bars of her window and listened with interest to the Wasungu [Europeans] on the neighbouring roof"
  4. Richard Burton, Zanzibar: City, Island and Coast, Tinsley Brothers, London. 1872 Two volumes. page 91. "The interior of the fort is jammed with soldiers huts, and divided into courts by ricketty walls. here too is the only jail in Zanzibar. The stocks (Makantarah), the fetters, the iron collars, and the heavy waist-chains do not prevent black man from conversationizing, singing comic songs, and gambling with pebbles. The most mutinous white salt that ever floored skipper would 'squirm' at the idea of a second night in the black hole at Zanzibar. Such is the Oriental beau-idea of a prison - a place whose very name  should develope the goose skin, and which the Chinese significantly call 'hell'. In my day foreigners visited  the prison to see its curio, a poor devil cateran who had beaten the death-drum whilst his headman was torturing M. Maizan. etc."
  5. Land und Leute in Duetsch Ost Afrika 1890 Wangemann (text); Sturtz (photos)

    Page 15 of the book states “Dass sind strafflinge aus dem fort kleine diebe ungehorsame diener dei auf einige monaten oder Jahre von ihren herren der Sultanspflege uberwiessen worden sind. Sie mussen jetzt korallensteine schleppen , den kamelshof reinigen   und die strassen fegen. Mit solchen ringen und ketten hat ubrichens auch Bushiri die doctoren Hans Meyer und Baumann auf seiner Schamba Mundo bei Pangani gefesselt und zwei nachte und einen tag  gefangen gehalten. Der schwarze mit dem dicken bein neben den strafflingen ist mit der hasslichen krankheit Elephantiasis behaftet. Seine fusse werden immer mehr schwellen, den die krankheit soll nicht heilbar sein, vielmehr nach und nach der tod herbeifuhren. Ich horte dies schon in Samoa dort ist diese plage auch sehr verbreitet.”

  6. Erinnerung an die Ostafrikanische Blockade und  meiner Reise an bord SMS Carola 1888-1890 (50 original photos, by naval officer J. Sturz, the album belonged to Emil Voelker and have his manuscript captions on the photos) Emil Voelker was on-board the SMS Carola during these events. In our collection now.