Originally owned by the Mwinyi Mkuu, last Swahili ruler of Zanzibar, the property has changed hands from one more illustrious owner after the other; now graced by the discerning traveller in pursuit of glamour with authenticity.
The principal structure which now houses Emerson Spice is a melding of two buildings and several distinct styles of architecture typical of the Stone Town heritage site, still offers the visitor a feeling of stepping back in time when crossing the threshold.
Furnished with antique Zanzibar furniture, be it the classic ornate Swahili bed, or the Zenji Déco take on the international design era, each room is different from the other. Built for romance, the bath rooms are fully or partially open to the bedrooms.
The least Zanzibari room among Emerson’s designs, the room dedicated to Katherine Hepburn is a restrained Hollywood or Bollywood does Zanzibar.
Opening to two verandas facing South and North, the natural breeze through the room soothes in the tropics, as well as the al fresco second bath where to relax and cool down after a day exploring.
The Soul of Zanzibar
Aida is a duplex, suitable as a double or for a family with children. On the first level there is a queen size bed in the main area, and a sitting area with a spiral staircase up to a mezzanine loft. Separate and enclosed bathroom.
Monumental columns, massive blank walls, soaring ceilings are emblems of Luxor and are integral to the Aida opera set. Granted our stage is of a smaller scale, but for a bedroom, it is grandiose. A large lion pawed bed, so high that two antique Zanzibari chests were placed next to the bed so guests could climb onto it. As was the custom in ancient Egypt, a mural with a large impression of Aida adorns the eastern wall.
In The Beauty and Culture of Historical Zanzibar
The second floor west facing room is dedicated to the film version of Dumas’ “La Dame aux Camelias”, starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor; two of the most beautiful people ever captured on film. French doors, high ceilings, spacious but not ostentatiously huge, and the gold satin backdrop capturing the afternoon light evokes the romantic atmosphere and photography of one of the greatest films ever made.
This room is a collapsed temple of Apollo and dedicated to the mother of Dionysus. Mortal daughter of King Cadmus and famously beautiful, Zeus fell desperately in love with her and visited her in the night. Semele fell in love with this unknown and unseen lover’s magic touch and beautiful words of endearment. A jealously scheming Hera brutally put an end to the affair, and the god Dionysus was eventually delivered from the thigh of Zeus. Needless to say, Dionysus and his followers were not fond of Hera and her momma’s boy son, Apollo, and were alleged to have trashed his temples in their revelries, providing the motif of the room. There are chandeliers which are based on classical temple lighting. A Spanish hand-painted tile mosaic lies among broken marble slabs embedded in the floor. The mosaic is a solar Apollo motif. The bath is built into an archway in the wall and resembles a ceremonial tub spanning two spaces, or, perhaps, two worlds.
The first floor West room is dedicated to all the Southern Belles of the world, be they Scarlett O’Hara, Lillian Hellman, Blanche DuBois or Emerson’s mother. Belles are not necessarily from the U.S. South, being a Belle is a state of mind.
The long shady veranda seems to invade the interior of the room and dominate it, evoking the American South. The color of Georgia peach; the floor, like old Cremona marble; the furniture, solid and antebellum. The very large, ornately carved mirror made visible from every spot in the room, so the Belle can delight in her every move. The mirror also doubles her stage presence. The stone shower/bath is also visible from throughout, so that her amour will long for her touch.
This courtesan’s boudoir in shades of violet and blue, was dedicated to the lead character in Verdi’s “La Traviata”. Although the room is quite spacious, there is a feminine and intimate feeling; quite large, yet cozy and private.
Animated conversations and laughter drift upward from the street, but sounding as if in another room, behind a closed door evokes “Libiamo,” the famous aria from the first act. The furniture is antique, feminine and frilly; and there is lots of satin for such a small room. The shower/bath is visible from all the room, but partially obscured by an arch, for a little mystery. The large carved mirror faces the bath for a lovely duet.
Top floor west facing Desdemona is elegant, lovely and inviting, but at the same time, chaste and aloof. Presiding over the city as from an abandoned castle’s tower with the view of the cityscape, yet captured and isolated by the very walls and height that protect it.
Black shelves, a small wall shelf, round table and two silver painted chairs are reminiscent of Ottoman styles which were prevalent in the Eastern Mediterranean at the time.
Desdemona’s piety and prayers afford some of the most touching moments of the opera. Emerson collected years ago some pieces from the Anglican cathedral which were being discarded in renovations. A priere bench sits between the two balcony doors, and in the bathroom, a variation of Gothic stained glass windows afford privacy and light.
Dorothy Lamour, beloved pin-up girl and celebrity from WWII, and Emerson’s favourite “Jane” (forget about Tarzan) is the inspiration of this Hollywood inspired room with original “Road to Zanzibar” film posters. The windows face Tharia Street, one of the most beautiful and characteristic streets of Stonetown. A couple of minarets, the Anglican Cathedral spire, some dramatic teahouses and multi-ethnic street life define the essence of Zenj, just waiting for the long dolly shot entrance or slow fade of movie cameras.
The two balconies afford views both to the city, and the gardens, the latter with an al fresco bathtub so no one has to fight over the tub in this gorgeous twin room.
Mimi’s friends are artists and intellectuals; she, a seamstress. She has no space, yet she is omnipresent; she’s a frail waif, a bewintered sparrow dependent on her feminine wiles and the crumbs of friends and lovers, which, for her, means perching in male nests. Likewise, Mimi is an anomalous room for this hotel. Graced by arches, frilly balconies, and curved stained glass windows, every other space gushes feminine, while this room Mimi smacks of a boy’s space from the instant entered. No curved stained glass windows, only two arches and no balcony, frilled or unfrilled. When you cross the threshold, you sense it is lofty (sorry), and you are immediately confronted by an alpha male space, circa 1900 Zanzibari colonial, shortly after the opera was premiered. The view is of Zanzibari characteristic roof tops, minarets, and church spires. The furniture is of the period, even some chairs of what I call “proto-IKEA,” made pre-fab, pre-WWI by a Norwegian company and traded one chair, one measure of cloves.
We are slowly filling this room with its own art collection. We have the honor to present two life-size angels standing on easels from a now renowned exhibition called “Letters to Abu” by Jan Van Esch, a Dutch-Tanzanian artist. Elias Ciprian Mkumbo, a leading young Tanzanian sculptor, has graced us with two busts of Mimi, one of clay and one of wood.
Turandot is the smallest room in the hotel, however, the veranda is as large as the room. The private tea House, the open air bath and garden make this a special room for the lovers of moonlight and mystery outdoors.