Did You Know the Capital of Oman Was Once in Zanzibar’s Stone Town?

The Old Arab Fort in Zanzibar By: David Stanley |Flickr
The Old Arab Fort in Zanzibar By: David Stanley |Flickr
Photo of Gehad Medhat
7 October 2017

Oman looks like a tiny country in the far southeastern part of the Arab Peninsula, and it’s one that most people hardly ever hear anything about it in the news. It seems peaceful and on its own, which is true, and that’s why it is a perfect nature and architecture escape for all beauty seekers. But did you know that the nation’s capital was once located in another country entirely? Here is a walk through Oman’s history and its African ties.

What most people don’t know is the historical relationships Oman used to have with different countries around the world, starting from east Africa, India, and all the way to the UK. Moreover, Oman had lots of exploration adventures and expeditions to open new lands and to expand the Omani empire. In fact, Stone Town in Zanzibar in eastern Africa was once the capital city of Oman.

Omani Flag By: Marco Zanferrari | Flickr

Most of Oman’s borders are coastal, which include the north, the east and the south. These coasts are bordered by the Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Oman. Moreover, it is very close to the Indian Ocean. All of which facilitated the Omani voyages to explore nearby regions and to establish trade routes. Oman also has perfected the industry and art of ship-building. Using the high-quality wood of cities like Sur, Omanis established successful relations with India, Iran, and east Africa—especially Zanzibar.

Dhow building in Sur By: Marco Zanferrari | Flickr

Zanzibar was under the ruling of the Portuguese for around two centuries. Then, in 1698, the Omanis fought them out of the African lands and took control of Zanzibar. Lots of Omanis traveled to settle in Zanzibar. They built new homes, married Zanzibaris, and established their trade and industries on the new land. Even today, there are still some Omani families who live in Zanzibar, and some Omanis speak Swahili, which is the native language of Zanzibar. There are also some Zanzibaris who have settled and are still living in various parts of Oman.

Man dressed like an Omani in Zanzibar | © Yoni Lerner / Flickr

Zanzibar had a flourishing economy from the growth of clove plantations, as well as in the ivory and slave trade. By 1840, Said Bin Sultan, the Sultan of Oman had moved the capital of his country from Muscat to the Stone Town of Zanzibar, and encouraged more Omanis to relocate and settle there.

Zanzibar Clove Plantations By: Marcel Oosterwijk | Flickr

During that era, a hospital, a fort, and some houses were built in Zanzibar using the distinctive Omani architecture and design. The name of the Omani Sultan was even printed on the stamps that people used in Zanzibar.

Al Busaid, Omani ruling family; Zanzibar stamp | © John Flannery / Flickr

The Omani control over Zanzibar started to weaken when Sultan Said died in 1856, leaving the Omani empire to his two children who divided it into The Sultanate of Oman and Muscat and the Sultanate of Zanzibar.

There are some researchers who claim that the origin of the Omani Kummah, which is the traditional cap that the Omani men wear, was from Zanzibar.

Omani Kummah By: Riyadh Al Balushi | Flickr

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