The Arab Fort in Zanzibar, also known as the Old Fort or its local name Ngome Kongwe is situated next to the House of Wonders. The fort was constructed between 1698 and 1701 by the Busaidi group of Amani Arabs. The fort was originally used as protection against the Portuguese and the Mazrui, who controlled Mombasa at that time.
Remnants of the old church can still be found inside the walls of the Arab Fort. The fort was used a prison in the 19th century and criminals were both punished and executed here. The Swahili word gereza, meaning prison, thought to have derived from the Portuguese work ireja which means church.
The fort was also used as a depot for the railway line which ran from Stone Town to Bububu. The fort was rebuilt in 1949 and was used as a ladies’ tennis club, however it wasn’t used after the 1964 Revolution.
These days the Zanzibar Arab Fort has been refurbished, and is now open to travellers. In 1994 an area of the fort was turned into an open-air theatre. The outer walls and the House of Wonders form a natural back drop and compliment the atmosphere of the Arab Fort perfectly. Performances of traditional and modern music, drama and dance take place at the theatre. There are also a few spice and craft shops, a lovely café and some remarkably clean public toilets.
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