The Sultan of Zanzibar founded Dar es Salaam on the site of mzizima (‘healthy town’) and gave it its present name from the Arabic phrase ‘house of peace’. Dar remained only a small port until the German East Africa Company established a station there in 1887. During the German occupation in the early 20th century, Dar was the centre of colonial administration and the main contact point between the agricultural mainland and the world of trade and commerce in the Indian Ocean and the Swahili Coast. The starting point (1907) for the Central Line railroad, it served as the capital of German East Africa (1891 to 1916), Tanganyika (1961 to 1964) and Tanzania (1964 to 1974). Dodoma was designated Tanzania’s national capital in 1974. Pending completion of the transfer of official functions to Dodoma, however, Dar remains the seat of most government administration.
Buildings in Dar often reflect the city’s colonial past and display a rich mix of architectural styles incorporating Swahili, British, German and Asian traditions. Post World War II modernisation and expansion brought contemporary multistoried buildings including a hospital complex, a technical institute and a high court. Educational facilities comprise the University of Dar es Salaam (1961), several libraries and research institutes as well as the National Museum. Other historical landmarks include St Joseph’s Cathedral, the White Father’s Mission House, the Botanical Gardens and the old State House, which make for an interesting walking tour around the waterfront and city centre. Dar’s natural, nearly landlocked harbour is the outlet for most of mainland Tanzania’s agricultural and mineral exports and is also a transit port for the Congo River, whose navigable tributary, the Lualaba, can be reached by rail. The city is the terminus of a rail line west to Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika, north to Mwanza on Lake Victoria and south to Zambia.
Dar is, in common with most African cities, more romantic to the imagination than to the senses. The road from the station lies through a crowded stretch of pavement stalls and shacks selling, inter alia, mosquito nets at bargain prices. Tanzania is a stable African state, save for the refugee problems caused by Rwanda’s genocide and the Congolese civil war. Read more >
Journeys: Dar es Salaam, Trail of Two Oceans