Zanzibar carved doors are a unique and iconic feature of the traditional architecture found on the island of Zanzibar, part of the United Republic of Tanzania. These intricately carved wooden doors are a blend of various cultural influences, including Arab, Indian, and Swahili, reflecting the island’s rich history as a trading hub for spices, slaves, and other goods.
There are two main types of Zanzibar carved doors:
- Arab-style doors: These doors feature a square top and are adorned with intricate carvings, often incorporating Arabic calligraphy, geometric patterns, and floral motifs. They typically have a heavy wooden frame, with the door itself divided into panels. A key feature of these doors is the use of brass studs, which served a practical purpose in ancient times as a deterrent to elephants used in sieges, but now are used primarily for decoration.
- Indian-style doors: These doors have a rounded top, or “Gujarati arch,” which is a characteristic of Indian architecture. The designs on these doors are influenced by Hindu and Jain religious symbolism, including lotus flowers, peacocks, and other animals. Indian-style doors in Zanzibar may also incorporate elements of Swahili design, such as the use of mangrove wood or the inclusion of local motifs.
The craftsmanship behind Zanzibar carved doors is a testament to the island’s cultural heritage and skilled artisans. While the tradition of creating these doors has dwindled over time, some contemporary artists and woodworkers continue to preserve this unique art form, creating new doors for local homes, hotels, and restaurants. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Zanzibar carved doors, with efforts being made to protect and restore original doors found on historic buildings on the island.
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