Zanzibar Cathedral is a wonderful building. It stretches the local technique of construction in coral to the limits. It boasts a unique concrete roof from the era before reinforced concrete technology. There are beautifully crafted examples of “arts and crafts” copper panel work and stained glass that blend with local craftsmanship in timber. It is basilican in plan with an unusual combination of Perpendicular Gothic and Islamic details.
The Cathedral site has a remarkable history. Zanzibar reached its zenith through the slave trade and the cathedral was built on the site of the old slave market as a celebration of the end of the trade in the Sultan’s dominions. The foundation stone was laid in 1873 and it was consecrated in 1903, named after Canterbury Cathedral. The old part of Zanzibar, Stone Town, is now a World Heritage Site.
The edifice has fallen into a state of serious dilapidation. Despite occasional repair work over the years, structural and water ingress problems are bringing the building into danger of collapse. Moves to repair the cathedral were made in 2000 when Tom Gray visited and prepared a Condition Report. The subsequent development of a serious crack brings urgency to restoring the building’s structural integrity. To allow this to move ahead quickly it is proposed to separate the project into two phases. Structural work will be carried out by Tanzanian contractors under the direction of Christian Engineers in Development while a vocational school is established where young people will eventually be trained in the craft of conservation, liaising with the existing Stone Town Conservation and Development Authority.
Around ten years ago there was structural movement and although the original roof has lasted, the concrete has started to crack. At present a serious crack runs the height of the West gable and the cracking continues along the length of the roof.
The immediate concern is to undertake repairs so that the Cathedral is not in danger of collapse. The basic cost of this is £450 000, some of which has already been raised by communities both in Zanzibar and the UK.
The ultimate aim is to bring the building back into the showcase example of Swahili architecture that it once was. The cost is estimated at £250 000, which will allow tourists, academics and worshipers to be able to experience and enjoy this unique space with its turn of the 20th century art work.
- Rescue an internationally important building.
- Build a community of artisans focused on developing excellence in trainee craftsmen and women.
- Involve local people, expatriates, Muslims and Christians in a project that will foster understanding.
- Reduce poverty by providing training and work.