In 1828 the flagship of Sultan Seyyid Said, one of Oman's most powerful and influential rulers, landed at Zanzibar. The Sultan had previously been too busy defending Oman against its many would-be conquerors to visit the island in person, but he was enchanted by what he saw. In contrast to the dry, rocky desert of Oman, Zanzibar was green, lush and filled with sources of fresh water. More importantly, it had strategic advantages - safe, defensible and closer to the African mainland, the source of his wealth. In 1840 Said moved his entire household to Zanzibar and declared it the new capital of his empire.
Said and his many relatives and associates built numerous palaces, bath houses and country manors on Zanzibar, and introduced the commercial farming of cloves, sugar and other crops. Said's empire went from strength to strength, fuelled all the time by the flow of miserable humanity that marched in chains from the regions of the great lakes and beyond, to be sold for ever higher prices in the great slave market in the middle of Stone Town.
But it couldn't last. By 1890, the British had put an end to the once-great empire of the Omani sultanate. By a combination of bribery, diplomacy and the odd judicious naval bombardment, Britain abolished the slave trade in East Africa and ultimately declared Zanzibar a protectorate. The then Sultan, Ali, became a British vassal, and between them Britain and Germany carved up the Sultan's domains, which had once stretched as far inland as Lake Malawi. Although the sultans remained nominally on the throne, their power was ended and their wealth used up.
The era of the British on Zanzibar, which saw the slave market destroyed and an Anglican cathedral built in its place, lasted until 1963, when power was formally handed back to the Omani sultans. But the reign of the new sultan was short-lived - he was ousted in 1964 by a violent revolution, and today lives quietly in a bungalow on the south coast of England.
After the revolution the new Zanzibari government joined with the post-independence government of mainland Tanganyika to form a single state, renamed Tanzania. Zanzibar was run along socialist, single-party lines by the new revolutionary government, and received political support and financial aid from countries such as Bulgaria, East Germany and China. However in the 1980s the first presidential elections took place, and Zanzibar's economy slowly became less state-controlled, with some private sector enterprise being allowed. The first half of the 1990s saw the rise of a multi-party system of government and the development of Zanzibar's newest industry - tourism.
Zanzibar's most famous son - Freddy Mercury
Freddy Mercury, real name Farouk Bulsara, was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar, on September 5th, 1946. Freddie's parents belonged to the Parsee faith, the ancient Zoroastrian religion originating from Persia. Many parsees emigrated to India during and after the Arab conquest of Iran, resulting in a sizeable Parsee population in India, some of which travelled to Zanzibar to work for the British government. Freddy lived in Zanzibar until the age of seven (spending some of his early years in the building that is now the Gallery Zanzibar shop on Kenyatta road). At seven he was sent to boarding school in India, returning to Zanzibar occasionally until his parents emigrated to the UK before the revolution of 1964. Freddy went to art school in England and eventual rock stardom with his band Queen, becoming the world's best known Asian pop singer before his untimely death from an AIDS-related illness in 1991.