Christ Church Cathedral, Zanzibar | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Christ Church Cathedral, Zanzibar

Lucy Davidson

06 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Christ Church Cathedral, Zanzibar

Christ Church Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania. It was built over a period of seven years from 1873 to 1879. Located on the site of a former large and notorious slave trading site, the cathedral is said to have been constructed to celebrate the end of slavery.

History of Christ Church Cathedral, Zanzibar

Christ Church Cathedral was built in 1879 by British missionaries on the location of the East Africa’s last permanent slave market. It is one of the most prominent examples of early Christian architecture in East Africa.

For centuries, Zanzibar was the epicentre of political and economic power in East Africa. Slaves captured on the mainland were often brought to Zanzibar in chains to be sold in the city’s large and notorious slave market. It was because of these factors that the island played such a pivotal role in the abolition of slavery both in Africa and worldwide.

Zanzibar slave market was closed in 1873 amidst increasing pressure to abolish the East African slave trade.

The site was purchased by The Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) and built the cathedral under the leadership of passionate abolitionist Bishop Steere. Known as the ‘Slave Market Church’, the high altar was positioned over the whipping post, and has now become a symbol of emancipation from tyranny worldwide.

The cathedral is notable for its Saracenic design, which created a typically Zanzibari eclecticism through its fusion of Zanzibari, Middle Eastern, and late Victorian Gothic architectural styles.

Like most buildings in Stone Town, it is primarily made of coral stone, and has an unique concrete roof shaped in a barrel vault.

The Cathedral was consecrated in 1903 and named after Canterbury Cathedral.

Christ Church Cathedral, Zanzibar Today

Today, the Cathedral is a site of international historic and cultural significance, receiving over 100,000 visitors per year. Stone Town was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2000, with the great wealth and diverse origins of its inhabitants leading to the development of a unique cultural heritage in the area.

In the square outside there is a well-known monument to the slaves, with a few human figures in chains emerging from a pit, as well as a museum on slavery.

Getting to Christ Church Cathedral, Zanzibar

From Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, the cathedral is reachable in around 3 hours 15 minutes by car, and includes a ferry ride. From the centre of Stone Town, the cathedral is a minute’s walk via Tharia Street.