Once the capital of Mozambique for nearly four centuries under Portuguese colonisation before the move to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), and had been used as a significant base for the Arab traders since around the 8th century, long before the arrival of the Portuguese. Stone Town occupies the northern half of the island and is much grander than Macuti town in the south, but both are UNESCO listed because of their significant architecture and cultural tradition.
Notable buildings on the island include the Palace and Chapel of São Paulo, built in 1610 as a Jesuit College and subsequently used as the Governor's Residence, now a museum; the Museum of Sacred Art, housed in the Church of the Misericórdia run by the House of Mercy. Displaying an excellent Makonde crucifix; the Church of Santo António; the Church of the Misericórdia; and the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte. The island, now entirely urbanised, is also home to several mosques and a Hindu temple. A 3 km bridge was erected in the 1960s to connect it to the mainland.