The House of Wonders (Beit-al-Ajaib) is a very large square-shaped building, with several stories, surrounded by tiers of pillars and balconies, and topped by a large clock tower. It was built in 1883 as a ceremonial palace for Sultan Barghash and was the first in Zanzibar to have electric light and an electric lift. Not surprisingly, when it was built, the local people called it Beit el Ajaib, meaning the House of Wonders. It was damaged in 1896 during the Shortest War in History (only lasting 40 minutes), the palace was the target of British bombardments intended to force the Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, who had tried to seize the throne after the death Sultan Hamad, to abdicate in favour of a British nominee.
After its rebuild, Sultan Hamad, who ruled Zanzibar from 1902 to 1911, used its upper floor as a residential palace until his death. Nowadays the house is used a National Museum of History & Culture. Inside it houses exhibits on the dhow culture of the Indian Ocean (ground floor) and on Swahili civilisation and 19th-century Zanzibar (1st floor). Everything is informatively labelled in English and Swahili, and well worth visiting. Just inside the entrance is a life-size mtepe – a traditional Swahili sailing vessel made without nails, the planks held together with only coconut fibres and wooden pegs. The building is undergoing major repair and it’s closed at the moment.