The Stone Town is the product of at least three centuries of continuous settlement, but it was only from 1830 that Zanzibar took on a wholly urban character and that stone buildings were built in significant numbers. Until that time, the majority of houses were made of mud and wattle, and roofed with palm leaf thatch. Very few large-scale structures could be distinguished, besides the Fort and a few small mosques.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the town occupied only the north-eastern portion of the peninsula, extending from Shangani Point toward the creek's narrowest crossing at Darajani. After the Omani Sultan's permanent move to the island in 1832, the Stone Town quickly expanded during the middle of the century, filling in the areas of upper Sokomuhogo, Forodhani, Kajificheni, and Kiponda. The Omanis erected palaces and residences along and behind the sea front, and tradesmen from the Indian sub-continent built up the bazaar streets with shop-front houses, and sea-faring merchants built houses, sheds, and warehouses near the waterfront. After 1850, stone buildings spread further and began to extend north into Malindi, south into the lower portion of Sokomuhogo, and east to Mkunazini, areas which up to this time had been mostly occupied by mud buildings. As contact with western trading markets increased, particularly once the Suez Canal opened in 1869, and later with the establishment of the British administration in 1890, specialised structures - larger civic buildings in particular - began to appear. The building up of the Stone Town was more or less completed and the present limits defined by the first quarter of the twentieth century: the new port area to the north had been reclaimed, the area south of Shangani built up, the European garden suburb of Vuga laid out, and the programme to fill the creek bordering the peninsula to the east gradually put into effect.
Thus, within the relatively short span of one hundred and fifty years, the confluence of several distinct cultures and the island's intense cosmopolitan development produced the rich and diverse architectural heritage we see today. In some cases, the diversity of the original imports is still evident in different sections of town; in others, the borrowing and adaptation of forms from other contexts produced a cross-fertilisation of different building traditions. In yet other cases, buildings were gradually transformed over time as newcomers adapted existing structures to their tastes and preferences, thus determining a further hybridisation of forms. This variety produced the diverse spaces and surprising contrasts of the Zanzibar townscape, where pedestrians move from the imposing row of sea front structures to the crowded and lively atmosphere of the Indian bazaars, and the quiet, intimate spaces of the narrower residential streets. Thus, although the different forms and building types and their origins - African, Arab, Indian, or European - can be recognised, it is the synthesis of these cultures and influences that creates Zanzibar's unique urban and architectural environment.
The 1994 ‘Conservation Plan’ identified a number of schemes for Zanzibar’s open spaces in order to ensure their protection, upgrading and rehabilitation. In particular, the work carried out by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) targeted three areas: Kelele Square, Forodhani Park and the Mizingani Seafront. Kelele Square was completed in 1997, following the adaptive reuse of the ex-Telecom Building into the Zanzibar Serena Inn, which defines part of the square. The much larger and ambitious rehabilitation of Forodhani Park, the most visible portion of Zanzibar’s seafront, was completed in 2008–09, while the rest of the seafront, along Mizingani Road, is currently being planned and its rehabilitation is scheduled to begin in 2011. Together, these open areas represent almost seventy-five per cent of the public open spaces along Zanzibar’s seafront and are the most visible and frequented public areas in the Stone Town.
Forodhani Park and the Mizingani Seafront form a continuous public open space along the Indian Ocean, stretching from the Orphanage House, at the southern end of the seafront, to the port at the opposite end. The area has the highest concentration of monuments and significant historic buildings in the Stone Town.
Prior to its rehabilitation, Forodhani Park was in very poor condition. It had, however, kept its original organization and layout from the time of its creation on the occasion of King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935. The design for the rehabilitation of the gardens was aimed at reconciling current uses and needs with the historic significance and traditions of the garden. To that end, its original elements were preserved and restored and some new features added. The aim was to create a contemporary urban space, while enhancing the original features and historic character of the place. Accordingly, the Park’s layout includes new paths lined with benches, linking together the original elements of the garden with a new organization and structure. Today, as in the past, Forodhani Park functions both as an active meeting place and passive promenade. At the same time, it maintains and defines separate areas intended for pedestrian movement, food vending, sports, contemplation and repose. The layout of the Park and proportions of lawn, paving and planting were derived from the main cross-axes defined by the fountain, bandstand and pier, all pertaining to the original configuration of the garden. These simple geometries were reinforced by structured plantings of palms and umbrella shade trees. Detailing was designed in a robust but understated manner, with a formal vocabulary and materials typical of the Stone Town. The paving has an exposed coral aggregate finish, a reminder of weathered surfaces found elsewhere in the historic area, while the park lighting is derived from the original cast-iron lamps manufactured in Glasgow. The baraza seating, modelled after traditional examples, accommodates the need for social interaction and provides the opportunity to simply enjoy the gardens in comfort. The remaining ship cannons scattered about the site were carefully restored and repositioned as a six-gun shore battery.