The Old Fort – Zanzibar

The Old Fort – Zanzibar  : When visiting Stone Town, make a point of visiting The Old Fort, also known as “Ngome Kongwe” in the local language. Stone Town, with its mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian, and European components underpinning the local Swahili culture, is a city of significant historical and cultural value in East Africa. In 2000, the town was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 The Old Fort is one of Stone Town’s oldest structures and portrays the tale of Zanzibar in a nutshell. It was established by the Portuguese in the 17th century and rebuilt by the Omani Arabs in the 18th century after the Portuguese were expelled in 1699. It served as a fortress and prison in the nineteenth century, as well as a Zanzibar railway terminal from 1905 to 1928. In 1947, a new guardhouse was built, which was later used as a ladies’ club. As an amphitheater was erected in the 1990s, it became a cultural center. Currently, festivals such as Sauti za Busara and the Zanzibar International Film Festival are held there. There are also numerous small shops, the majority of which sell clothing and artwork.


The Arab Fort (also known as the Old Fort and locally as Ngome Kongwe) is located near the House of Wonders. It’s a massive structure with towering, dark-brown walls and castellated battlements. It was constructed between 1698 and 1701 by the Busaidi tribe of Omani Arabs, who took control of Zanzibar in 1698 after nearly two centuries of Portuguese occupation. The fort was built to defend against the Portuguese and a competing Omani faction, the Mazrui, who occupied Mombasa at the time.

The Portuguese church, which had been erected between 1598 and 1612, was demolished to make way for the fort, which was built by the Busaidi Omani Arabs. Remains of the original church are still visible on the interior wall of the main courtyard. Criminals were either executed or subjected to other forms of punishment in the fort during the 19th century, in a location just outside the east wall. It’s believed that the Portuguese term ireja, which means church, is where the Swahili word Gereza, which means prison, originated.

The fort served as a depot for the railroad line that connected Zanzibar Town with Bububu in the early 20th century. After being rebuilt in 1949, a ladies tennis club was established in the main courtyard, but following the 1964 Revolution, it was abandoned.

The fort has been refurbished and is now accessible to tourists. You can ascend the battlements to their highest point and climb up onto the towers on the western side. A portion was transformed into an outdoor theater in 1994. The seating is in amphitheater format, and the House of Wonders and the fort’s outer walls provide a picturesque backdrop. The development was creative while being sensitive to the overall design and atmosphere of the old building. Dance, drama, and performances of both classic and modern music are presented in the theater.

The fort also has a visitor center with information on shows at the amphitheater and other local activities, as well as a selection of books for sale and a variety of tour company leaflets to peruse. Also, there are numerous spice and craft stores, a nice café, and, surprisingly, some extremely clean public restrooms. At the west tower, be sure to visit the Tower Workshop, where regional artisans develop and exhibit their masterpieces (more details are given in the Shopping section). The fort is definitely worth a visit, even if you aren’t interested in historical ruins. It’s easy to lose track of time here because there are so many amenities and attractions.

The Old Fort - Zanzibar
The Old Fort – Zanzibar


Cultural activities: The Old Fort can host a broad variety of cultural events that are a regular part of our lives, including festivals of all kinds and shapes, movie evenings, fashion shows, weddings, and more! To experience local culture, go to the Zanzibar International Film Festivals in July and the Sauti za Busara music festival in February.

Buying and eating out: At the fort, a few little stores primarily sell clothing and artwork. Also, there is a nearby restaurant that offers meals to amphitheater visitors. The final tower houses the office of Zanzibar Urban Adventures, and the two outer towers house an art gallery.

The working hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. The operating hours are extended for special occasions and bar nights. The Old Fort’s businesses operate according to their own timetables, although they never stay open past the structure’s set closing times. There is no entrance fee, and everyone is welcome in the Old Fort.


We can provide you with a small glimpse inside the Old Fort before the tour starts. Moreover, the Old Fort is a stop on a lot of our tours.


A walking tour of Stone Town’s past and present shows that this vibrant and mysterious city is at the center of Zanzibar’s cultural and historical life.