House of Wonders (Beit Al Ajaib), the majestic palace in Stone Town, Zanzibar, collapsed the 25th of December 2020.
This year 2020 will be remembered for the Covid-19 world pandemic, but on the Island of Zanzibar, where apparently the pandemic ended in May, the collapse of the House of Wonder will be a more relevant event.
The Beit Al Ajab is the largest and tallest building of Stone Town and occupies a prominent place facing the Forodhani Gardens on the old town’s seafront. It is located between the Old Fort and the Palace Museum.
The palace was built in 1883 from Barghash bin Said, second Sultan of Zanzibar, and seems to be located on the same site of the palace of Zanzibari queen Fatuma. It’s one of six palaces built by the Sultan.
It was a ceremonial palace celebrating modernity, and it was named ‘House of Wonders’ because it was the first building in Zanzibar to have electricity, and the first building in East Africa to have an elevator.
It was also connected to the other Palace of the Sultan in Bububu with the first railway in East Africa.
The House of Wonders suffered less damages during the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896.
World Heritage Site since 2000, the monument was undergoing restoration at a cost of 4.3 million $, funded by Omani government.
An initial investigation found alleged incompetence on the part of the contractor in charge of the 19th-century structure’s restoration.
“We are in contact with the Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority (STCDA) which is currently carrying rescue operation and will soon be starting a preliminary assessment of the damage caused by the collapse,” said Ms Mechtild Rössler.
“We have confidence that the authorities will carry out the necessary emergency actions and assessments to understand the causes of this damage and propose solutions for the safeguarding of this monument which is an essential component contributing to the Outstanding Universal Value of the site. UNESCO stands ready to support the ongoing efforts and we are with the United Republic of Tanzania in facing this disaster. ”
“The project will continue to re-construct a similar building because sketches and drawings are available,” Tourism and Antiquities Minister Lela Mohamed Mussa was quoted as saying.