Graceful triangular-sail dhows share the harbor with mammoth tankers, as the once sleepy village of Dar es Salaam, which means "haven of peace" in Arabic, has been transformed into one of East Africa's busiest ports, second only to Kenya's Mombasa. The country's major commercial center, Dar es Salaam has also become its largest city, home to more than 3.5 million inhabitants. The city also serves as the seat of government during the very slow move to Dodoma, which was named the official capital in 1973. The legislature resides in Dodoma, but most government offices are still found in Dar es Salaam.
In the early 1860s, Sultan Seyyid Majid of Zanzibar visited what was then the isolated fishing village of Mzizima on the Tanzanian coast. Eager to have a protected port on the mainland, Majid began constructing a palace here in 1865. The city, poised to compete with neighboring ports such as Bagamoyo and Kilwa, suffered a setback after the sultan died in 1870. His successor, his half-brother Seyyid Barghash, had little interest in the city, and its royal buildings fell into ruins. Only the Old Boma, which once housed royal guests, still survives.
The city remained a small port until Germany moved its colonial capital here in 1891 and began constructing roads, offices, and many of the public buildings still in use today. The Treaty of Versailles granted Great Britain control of the region in 1916, but that country added comparatively little to the city's infrastructure during its 45-year rule.
Tanzania gained its independence in 1961. During the years that followed, President Julius Nyerere, who focused on issues such as education and health care, allowed the capital city to fall into a decline that lasted into the 1980s. When Benjamin William Mkapa took office in 1985, his market-oriented reforms helped to revitalize the city. The city continues to evolve—those who visited only a few years ago will be startled by the changes—as new hotels and restaurants have appeared almost overnight. There are a few sights to detain visitors, but the only one really worth a visit is the National Museum, which contains the famous fossil discoveries by Richard and Mary Leakey, including the 1.7-million-year-old hominid skull discovered by Mary Leakey in the Olduvai Gorge in 1959. What Dar es Salaam has in blossoming abundance are exciting restaurants, beautiful hotels, and some of the best nightlife around.