Dar es Salaam History

Spritely and sun-scorched, Dar es Salaam is the fishing village that came good. Founded by Sultan Majid of Zanzibar in 1862, the earliest buildings were constructed close to Mzizima, a tiny Indian Ocean fishing port. Named Dar es Salaam, Arabic for ‘Haven of Peace’, the city had a natural harbour and was expected to expand through coconut plantations and passing caravan trade.

Teething problems, among them a lack of labour, meant it was still unfinished when the Sultan died in 1870, while an outbreak of smallpox, a hurricane and a famine in subsequent decades kept the population small. Salvation came in the shape of the German East Africa Company, which established a trading station in the city in 1887, overthrowing the Arabic rulers and extending the German colonisation of the East Africa coast.

Dar es Salaam grew into the administrative and commercial centre of German East Africa, before eventually being made its capital. Increased immigration helped the population grow and Dar es Salaam began to sprawl away from the harbour. New train lines were completed but, just as plans had been passed to extend the capital even further, WWI broke out.

This turned the city on its head. As a German stronghold, Dar was targeted by the Royal Navy with HMS Astraea and HMS Pegasus turning their guns on the city in 1914. Two years later, the British forces occupied the city. Soon after, German East Africa ceased to exist and the British renamed the area Tanganyika.

Tanganyika attained independence in 1961 and joined with nearby Zanzibar to form Tanzania in 1965. Despite its size and strength, Dar es Salaam lost its title as the country’s capital city in 1973, with the central city of Dodoma preferred instead.

Today, Dar es Salaam is still expanding rapidly. Religious and political unrest may have led to attacks on local churches and the bombing of the US embassy in recent years, but the little fishing village is finding its feet again.

Did you know?
• Dar es Salaam was originally called Mzizima, which means ‘Healthy Town’ in Swahili.
• The soldier atop the Askari Monument faces Dar es Salaam harbour as did its predecessor, a statue of German Major Hermann von Wissmann that the British removed in 1916.
• The oldest building in the city, Old Boma, was built for guests of the Sultan in 1867.

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