Nairobi — After 18 months of painstaking work, the Forodhani Park in Zanzibar was finally opened to the public on Thursday.
Rehabilitated by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) at a cost of $2.2 million, the park was officially opened by Zanzibari President Amani Abeid Karume in a function that was also attended by His Highness the Aga Khan.
The 1.4 acre park has regained its landmark status with a fresh new look that added to the beauty of the old Stone Town, itself a World Heritage Site recognised for its exceptional significance to mankind.
"And just like Zanzibar was a significant focal point for this region of the world, so too is the park that has long been of central focus for Zanzibar. This project has given me great personal satisfaction for many years," said the Aga Khan.
The restoration of Forodhani Park in Zanzibar's historic Stone Town has transformed the heavily used area -- one of the last open spaces in this densely populated World Heritage Site -- and upgraded social and recreational amenities.
The work included the restoration of walkways, landscape improvement, infrastructure upgrading including lighting, sewerage, drainage and civic amenities, and rehabilitation of the seawall fronting the park.
The park, once the location of the main port and a landing point for former Sultans of Zanzibar, has remained a central meeting place for civic discourse, leisure and entertainment.
In the past decade, stresses caused by the popularity of the park took their toll. It was clear that an important part of the patrimony of Stone Town was in need of revitalisation.
Sam Pickens, deputy director of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), said the rehabilitation was first proposed by the Trust in 2001 as part of a programme for comprehensive seafront rehabilitation of Stone Town.
Mr Pickens said the rehabilitation was intended to be a logical extension of the work already completed by the AKTC in Kelele Square.
"Following meetings between President Karume and His Highness the Aga Khan, agreements on restoration of the park were signed," he said.
The Trust has been active in Zanzibar since 1989, successfully completing the restoration of the Old Dispensary, now renamed the Stone Town Cultural Centre, and the old Customs House, as well as the rehabilitation of Kelele Square.
Eleven houses in Stone Town -- many of them on the point of collapse -- were restored as part of a programme to show the building and restoration techniques needed to preserve the World Heritage Site.
The Trust has also worked with the government and international partners -- such as the government of Sweden and the Ford Foundation -- to provide workshops on conservation practices and traditional construction methods for craftsmen, building professionals and government officers.
According to Mr Pickens, the creation of an Indian Ocean Maritime Museum is also proposed.
The museum will showcase the maritime cultures of the Indian Ocean, including the display of naval vessels and other artefacts that illustrate the history of the commercial and cultural contacts between Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub continent.
The restoration of Forodhani Park is intended to be part of a larger seafront rehabilitation programme, encompassing construction of the seawall; underground infrastructure, including water, storm and sewer lines; and creation of a pedestrian promenade, including street lighting and furniture on the seaside.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is a part of the Aga Khan Development Network.
Over the past 20 years, cultural revitalisation efforts have been carefully integrated into the broader economic and social programmes of the Network -- reflecting the Aga Khan's belief that development is a complex process that requires multiple inputs.
AKDN's development work in Zanzibar dates to the signing of a Protocol of Co-operation for Development between the Network and the government of Zanzibar in 1988.
In Zanzibar, AKDN's efforts include the Rahaleo Health Centre, which records over 16,000 patient visits per year.
The Aga Khan Foundation continues to operate a number of programmes in education, training and health, including support for pre-schools on Zanzibar and Pemba, an educational Resource Centre and the training of hundreds of teachers.
The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development restored and converted historic seafront buildings into the Zanzibar Serena Inn.