Preserving Dar's histiorical architecture

Sunday May 3 2020


By Priyanka Sippy

Dar es Salaam – a once sleepy fishing village which has since transformed into a thriving metropolis, and is home to around six million people and counting – is one of Africa’s fastest growing cities.

The city, which translates into ‘harbour of peace’ from Arabic, is still young, beginning around the 1850’s on instruction of the first Sultan of Zanzibar. Despite being a few hundred years old, Dar es Salaam is steeped in history, with the influence of Omani, German and British adminstrations, before Tanzania’s independence in 1961.

Dar es Salaam’s history is echoed through it’s architecture, which was once rich and diverse, as a result of the different communities which had settled there. However, over the years, there has been a notable disappearance of much of this architecture, in exchange for modern buildings, skyscrapers and high-rise buildings.

Aida Mulokozi, the CEO of Dar Centre for Architectural Heritage (DARCH), wants to change this. She is passionate about protecting the city’s historical buildings and believes that there is real value in this – from a cultural, social and economic perspective.

“Dar es Salaam is a young city, it is less than 200 years old. When we talk of historical buildings, they are 150-160 years old, but we are already seeing demolitions. Some of the iconic and identifiable structures in the city have been erased and so if there isn’t an intervention now, there is a risk we could lose many buildings which have historical importance.”

Aida notes that what makes Dar es Salaam unique and interesting is the mix of cultures and communities that passed through the city. Even the way the city looks to this day is due to the first master plan of Dar, which was created by the German adminstration and based on racial segregation, separating the city into the European zone, the Indian zone and the African zone.


The main aim of DARCH is to promote the restoration and conservation of architectural heritage, and this is done through a consortium of partners, which include the Architectural Association of Tanzania, Ardhi University, Goethe Institute and the Technical University of Berlin.

Together these partners have the expertise to be able to carry out restoration and renovation works on old buildings, educate communities and visitors through walking tours and outreach programmes, and preserving the skill set needed for architectural heritage through university courses.

DARCH is currently housed in Dar es Salaam’s oldest building – the Old Boma, which was built in 1866, started by the Sultan of Zanzibar and finished by the German adminstration. Initially built as a guesthouse, it has the Zanzibar-style carved wooden doors and coral stone walls, reflecting typical Arab architecture. Aida shares that there was once a ‘sister’ building that was demolished in 1968, while the Old Boma itself was a threat from demolition on a number of occassions, to make room for a hotel – it was only civil action that stopped it from happening at the last minute.

Today, Dar’s oldest building has had extensive restoration work done, through DARCH, to restore its original features, while adding some new ones, such as a permanent exhibition and museum, to educate visitors on Dar’s development as a city.

And it is not just the structures themselves that have importance, but also the people that have lived in them. Aida shares: “Tanzania played a key role in the Pan-African movement, with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere heavily involved in liberating the continent when countries were looking to get their independence. Historical figures, such as Nelson Mandela, used our buildings, and through that we have a shared history and heritage with other countries that is in our territory, and we are obligated to protect that.” She also firmly believes that the city does not have to sacrifice the old for the new, or vice versa, instead it is all about maintaining a balance – creating new buildings while preserving the historical fabric of Dar es Salaam.

“These buildings represent a legacy that should be here for future generations. It is not just architecture, it is about history, culture and identity.

There is also a tourism element - many countries thrive from tourism because of the old cities they have. Zanzibar is an example of that. Tourism is their backbone, because they have a historical town – Stown Town – which brings tourists. You are creating employment through that. In mainland Tanzania, we can have the mix of the old and the new.’

With the city’s continued growth, DARCH have a large task ahead of them. For Aida, it is about getting the local communities engaged and involved with their cause, so that they too can become supporters of the organisation’s mission. As for herself, she shares that when she first took the job, she didn’t know much about architecture, but now sees the value in it.

“‘I have understood the importance of it, and as a Tanzanian I feel obligated to keep this moving. This isn’t someone from outside to tell us to preserve these historical buildings, the responsibility lies within ourselves. This is why I am still working here.”