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World Heritage of Portuguese Origin




A Portuguese interlude: 16th - 17th century AD


The small tropical island of Zanzibar, a mere twenty miles off the east coast of Africa, has played a part in local history out of all proportion to its size. The reason is its easy access to traders and adventurers exploring down the east coast of Africa from Arabia. Islam is well established in this region by the 11th century.

During the 16th century there is a new category of visitor arriving from the south - the Portuguese. They establish friendly relations with the ruler. By the end of the century there is a Portuguese trading station and a mission run by Augustinian friars. But in the late 17th century the Christian presence comes to an end, after a forceful campaign down the coast by the Muslims of Oman.
By the late 1800's they surrendered their last East African holding, Mombassa, which is on the coast of present day Kenya. There are few remnants of Portuguese rule over Zanzibar. Amongst these are bullfights which are held on Pemba island and a few Swahili words.

1500-1800  The Portuguese.

Christianity was first introduced to Zanzibar by the Portuguese. Moving up the from the south after successfully rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 they staged a violent and ultimately unsuccessful bid to lay claim to the harbors, trading routes and resources of almost 2000 miles of African coastline.

Reaching Zanzibar in 1499 the Portuguese soon established a Catholic Mission and trading station in Zanzibar Town. For the next 200 years they dominated the shipping lanes of East Africa and strived to establish a string of coastal settlements. Ruins of Portuguese settlements can still be found near Fukuchani in the north and on Pemba Island.  The Fortress that stands today near the harbor in Zanzibar City was built overtop of an earlier catholic chapel located there; after it was captured by Omani forces. These forces are said to have been invited to Zanzibar and Pemba by the islanders to help drive out the overbearing Portuguese.

After decades of warfare and destruction that saw Mombasa set afire, captured or recaptured at least five times, the Portuguese retreated from Azania. Back south they went, out of reach of the incessant attacks born by the seasonal Dhow winds.



Zanzibari cuisine owes its unique flavors to a variety of cultures including Africans from the mainland, Arabs, Portuguese, Indians, British, Chinese, and Americans. Eating in Zanzibar is therefore like sampling a piece of the island's history. To give you a better understanding of where the various cooking techniques, spices, and flavors originated, following is a brief view of the island's history as viewed through a culinary lens.







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