It’s a tough time for heritage. On 11 and 12 December Isil recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, taking advantage of Syrian and Russian concentration on Aleppo, another ancient, and now ruined, city. Eighteen months ago a plume of smoke rising above the Temple of Bel in Palmyra marked the destruction of 2,000 years of history and reminded us of the senseless intolerance of some religious fanaticism.
But, search harder and there are positive, uplifting stories relating to heritage sites, some born from the darkest of histories. The Anglican Christ Church Cathedral in Zanzibar is a special place. Not only is it an extraordinary architectural melange of European Gothic, Arabic and Swahili styles, but it also marks the site of the last and biggest permanent slave market in East Africa. When the market was closed by the ruler of Zanzibar, Sultan Barghash, in 1873 the cathedral was constructed as a triumph of hope over human suffering, the altar deliberately placed over the site of the former whipping post.
In a predominantly Muslim country the architects took great care to follow local traditions and ensured that the clock tower was not as high as the sultan’s palace. The first service in the cathedral was held 140 years ago, on Christmas Day 1877. read more