Ruins of Sultan Saids Mtoni palace (birthplace of Bibi Salme) Zanzibar

Mtoni Palace Zanzibar

Ruins of Sultan Saids Mtoni palace (birthplace of Bibi Salme):

a) Photo: P. De Lord Photographers Zanzibar approx 1900 (stamped on the back) and handwritten in pencil 44

b) Photo: The same identical photo but with a different stamp of Pereira de Lord Photo Artist. Also handwritten in pencil 44

c) Colored Postcard: A.C. Gomes and sons Photographers Zanzibar (on reverse Union postale universelle) This card not in P.C. Evans the early postcards of Zanzibar.

d) Print: Mtoni palace as depicted in 1846 by Guillain

Mtoni Palace Zanzibar

Mtoni Palace

Zanzibar Mtoni palace where Bibi Salme grew up

Two men in front of the ruins of the famous Mtoni palace (Home of Sultan Said and Bibi Salme) in which over a 1000 people plus many animals have been living during the first half of the 19th century. For a detailed description of life in the palace see Emily Ruete (Bibi Salme ) "Memoirs of an Arabian princess"  See the slide-show for the early postcard of the Mtoni palace ruins and the 1840´s print in Ref 2 Guillain´s book when the palace was still bustling with activity.

Mtoni means in Swahili "close to the creek" The oldest illustrations of the palace can be found in the mentioned book by Captain Guillain (ref 2) The palace was built by Sultan Said. between 1828 and 1834.

Such an Omani  palace is not as luxurious as a Western palace.  In 1857 the adventurer Richard Burton was received by Sultan Said (Seyyid Said) Burton described the palace as looking like the Gothic castle of a German prince..... It was later largely demolished and adapted for use as a storage dump. The palace water-supply was conveyed from the Chem Chem spring along a stone aqua-duct (Falaj) Today in particular the Persian baths of the palace have best survived. Again The book of Emily Ruete gives us interesting details on the use of the dozen or so baths when she was living there.


Around 1810 the (francophile) Omani Saleh bin Haramil al Abry introduced the clove tree on his Mtoni estate in Zanzibar. The French had already done so successfully in other parts of East Africa (after stealing seedlings during the late 18th century from the Dutch who had a monopoly on clove production in the Dutch Indies) By 1819 the cloves on Mtoni and Kizimbani started producing their first crops. Saleh was imprisoned and the  Mtoni estate and the planted clove trees were confiscated in 1828 by Sultan Said bin Sultan, officially because Saleh trespassed the Moresby (slave) treaty of Oman with the British. However it is also argued that his pro French and anti British attitude played an important role. The palace was later built on the Mtoni estate. Sultan said bin Sultan encouraged his subjects to plant cloves all over the fertile uplands in the western part of the island.


After the death of Sultan Said in 1856 the palace lost its importance and fell into ruin quickly, also the cloth plantations on the Mtoni estate have disappeared.

This photo is unpublished in the specialist literature on the palace. It is very important in the sense that the two man in front of the building give a good impression of the enormous size of the building. The book "Memoirs of an Arabian princess" by Lionel Strachey 1907 page 16 includes a photo (by Gomes) of the ruins. Pereira de Lord and his brother were among the most prolific photographers in Zanzibar history. No one has more preserved work still available today than they, this may well be because no one took more photographs of old Zanzibar than they did. They seem to have been everywhere in the early years, all over the town, in the country, at sea, in high buildings and of course they also maintained a studio. There, just off a main street in Stone Town, they produced quality portraiture for all manner of customers

  1. Mtoni, palace, sultan & princess of Zanzibar. Antoni Folkers etc. Lecturis Eindhoven 2010
  2. Guillain, Voyage a la cote orientale d´Afrique execute pendant les annees 1846, 1847, 1848. Sous le commandement  de M. Guillain capitage de fregate. Publie par ordre du gouvernement.
  3. Major Pearce, Zanzibar, the island metropolis of Eastern Africa 1920;
  4.  Emily Ruete, Memoirs of an Arabian Princess,  translated by Lionel Stratchey illustrated, New York Double Page & Company 1907 After page 16 a photo of the ruins of Mtoni palace