Excavations at the Old Fort of Stone Town, Zanzibar: new evidence of historic interactions between the Swahili Coast and Arabian Gulf


  • ````Tim Power
  • Mark Horton


Zanzibar, Arabian Gulf, Portuguese, Yaʿrubids, Āl Bū Saʿīd


The Old Fort in Stone Town, Zanzibar, is one of the city’s most prominent monuments. It has played a key role in the history of both the Swahili Coast and the Arabian Gulf. The western courtyard of the fort was excavated in 2017 and 2018 as part of a collaboration between Zayed University and the University of Bristol together with the Zanzibar Department of Antiquities and Museums. Excavations revealed that the site has been continuously occupied since the eleventh century AD, when a Swahili settlement was established next to the beach. A Portuguese factory and an Augustinian mission were established in the sixteenth century. At the end of the late seventeenth century the factory was destroyed by the Yaʿrubids of Oman, who subsequently incorporated the remains of the church into a square-plan fort. The fort was then doubled in size on the order of Sayyid Saʿīd b. Sulṭān Āl Bū Saʿīdī in the nineteenth century, creating the present rectangular-plan building with two courtyards. Ceramic imports throughout the 900-year sequence point to strong commercial links with the Arabian Gulf.


Bathurst R.D. 1967. The Ya’rubi dynasty of Oman. PhD thesis, University of Oxford. [Unpublished.]

Dalrymple A. 1774. A collection of plans of ports in the East Indies. i. London. [Privately published].

Dinteman W. 1993. The forts of Oman. Abu Dhabi: Motivate Publishing.

Flury S. 1922. The Kufic inscription of Kizimkazi Mosque, Zanzibar, AD 1107. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 21: 257–264.

Freeman-Grenville G.S.P. 1962. The East African coast: Select documents from the first to the earlier nineteenth century. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Gray J. 1962. History of Zanzibar from the Middle Ages to 1856. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Grey C. 1933. Pirates of the eastern seas (1618–1723). London: Sampson Low & Marston and Co.

Hart H. 1856. Extracts from brief notes of a visit to Zanzibar, (belonging to H.H. the Imaum of Muscat,) in H.M.’s ship Imogene, in the month of January and February 1834. Bombay Selections 24: 273–283.

Hopper M.S. 2010. Globalization and the economics of African slavery in Arabia in the age of empire. Journal of African Development 12/1: 155–184.

Hopper M.S. 2014. The African presence in eastern Arabia. Pages 327–350 in L. Potter (ed.), The Persian Gulf in modern times: People, ports, and history. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US.

Hopper M.S. 2015. Slaves of one master: Globalization and slavery in Arabia in the age of empire. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Horton M. 1996. Shanga. The archaeology of a Muslim trading community on the coast of East Africa. London: British Institute in Eastern Africa.

Horton M. 2004. Islam, archaeology and Swahili identity. Pages 67–88 in D. Whitcomb (ed.), Changing social identity with the spread of Islam: Archaeological perspectives. (Oriental Institute Seminar, 1). Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Horton M. 2017. East Africa and Oman, c. 600–1856 CE. Pages 255–279 in A. Al Salimi & E. Staples (eds), The ports of Oman. Hildesheim/New York: Georg Olms.

Hurreiz S.H. 2002. Folklore and folklife in the United Arab Emirates. London: Routledge Curzon.

al-Izkawī, Sirḥān b. Saʿīd/trans. E.C. Ross. 1874. Kashf al-Ghumma. Annals of Oman. Calcutta: G.H. Rouse, Baptist Mission Press.

Juma A. 2004. Unguja Ukuu on Zanzibar. An archaeological study of early urbanism. (Studies in Global Archaeology, 3). Uppsala: Uppsala University, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History.

Ladame J. 1994. Marguerite-Marie, La sainte de Paray. Montsûrs: Éditions Resiac.

Laing S. 2017. Tippu Tip: Ivory, slavery and discovery in the scramble for Africa. Surbiton: Medina Publishing.

Nicolini B. 2004. Makran, Oman and Zanzibar: Three-terminal cultural corridor in the western Indian Ocean (1799–1856). Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Nicolini B. 2006. The Makran – Baluch – African network in Zanzibar and East Africa during the XIXth century. African and Asian Studies 5/3.4: 347–370.

Nicolini B. 2007. The Baluch role in the Persian Gulf during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 27/2: 384–396.

Nicolini B. 2017. Oman’s maritime activities throughout the Indian Ocean: 1650–1856 CE. Pages 141–159 in A. Al Salimi & E. Staples (eds), The ports of Oman. Hildesheim/New York: Georg Olms.

Power T. 2015. A first ceramic chronology for the late Islamic Arabian Gulf. Journal of Islamic Archaeology 2/1: 1–33.

Priestman S. 2013. A quantitative archaeological analysis of ceramic exchange in the Persian Gulf and Western Indian Ocean, AD c.400–1275. PhD thesis, University of Southampton. [Unpublished.]

Ravenstein E.G. (trans. and ed.). 1898. First voyage of Vasco Da Gama. London: Hakluyt Society.

Reilly B. 2015. Slavery, agriculture, and malaria in the Arabian Peninsula. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Ritchie J. McL. 1995. The history of the Mazru’i dynasty of Mombasa by Sh. Al-amin bin ‘ali al Mazru’i. (Fontes Historiae Africanae Arabica, 11). Oxford: British Academy.

Sheriff A. 1987. Slaves, spices and ivory in Zanzibar. London: James Currey.

Sheriff A. 2010. Dhow cultures of the Indian Ocean. London: Hurst Publishers.

Strandes J. 1961. The Portuguese period in East Africa by Justus Strandes. (Trans. from the German by J.F. Wallwork). Nairobi/Dar es Salaam: East African Literature Bureau.

Subrahmanyam S. 1998. The career and legend of Vasco Da Gama. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Villiers A. 1940. Sons of Sinbad. New York: Scribners.

Zanzibar Guide. 1961. A guide to Zanzibar. Nairobi: East African Printers.



How to Cite

Power, ````Tim, & Horton, M. (2020). Excavations at the Old Fort of Stone Town, Zanzibar: new evidence of historic interactions between the Swahili Coast and Arabian Gulf. Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 50(1), 275–291. Retrieved from https://archaeopresspublishing.com/ojs/index.php/PSAS/article/view/310

Similar Articles

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.