Zanzibar (a semi-autonomous part of the East African nation of Tanzania) consists of two large islands (Zanzibar — a.k.a. Unguja, and Pemba) along with a chain of smaller ones. It was a trading base for Middle East traders going as far back as the Persians (who reputedly built the first mosques in East Africa). By the time the first European explorers (the Portuguese) made their way to East Africa in the late 1400s, Zanzibar was long established as a trading center by Arabs
Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese empire in the early 1500s and remained so for nearly two centuries. In 1698, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman. In 1832, Oman’s ruler moved the capital of his country from Muscat (that country’s main city in the Arabian Peninsula) to Zanzibar. Under the Sultans’ rule, Zanzibar’s role in the East African coastal economy became well-established, complete with a robust trade in cash crops, ivory, and spices (which helped Zanzibar and nearby islands gain the nickname the “Spice Islands”). Slaves were also being traded (despite slavery being abolished in other parts of the world by the late 19th century, such as the Americas).
In 1890, Zanzibar became a protectorate of Britain. However, the death of pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini in August 1896 (replaced by an anti-British sultan) led to the “Anglo-Zanzibar War” – the shortest war in history (lasting just 38 minutes). That British victory foreshadowed that country’s colonial rule over those islands (and nearby Tanganyika after World War I, when the Germans gave up possession of that country to Britain). Zanzibar became independent from Britain in 1963 (two years after Tanzania – then known as Tanganyika, was granted its independence from the UK). A year later, Zanzibar officially became part of Tanzania in a political union encouraged by Tanzanian politician Julius Nyerere (that country’s leading pro-independence leader).
Along with agriculture (consisting mainly of clove exports) and other forms of trade, tourism has become a major part of Zanzibar’s economy. Its location in the Indian Ocean attracts tourists from Europe and elsewhere (including cruise ship traffic). As much as 27% of Zanzibar’s GDP is from tourism (generating as much as 70% of its foreign currency earnings). Along with these islands’ beaches, their rich cultural history is another draw for travelers. Zanzibar is also proximate to other Indian Ocean destinations such as the Seychelle Islands, Mauritius, Madagascar and Mombasa (Kenya).