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Lamu Old Town

KenyaSouthern & Coastal AreaLamu


Lamu Old Town 

On the same-named island off the coast of East Africa about 350 kilometers north of Mombasa, is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili village in the region.

Lamu has retained its social and cultural integrity, as well as its authentic building fabric, up to the present day, with a core consisting of a collection of buildings on 16 acres. Lamu, formerly the most important commercial center in East Africa, has had a significant religious, cultural, and technological influence throughout the region.

Lamu, a conservative and close-knit society, has maintained its importance as a major center for Islamic and Swahili cultural instruction, as seen by the yearly Maulidi and cultural festivals. Lamu, unlike other Swahili settlements along the East African coast that have been abandoned, has been continually inhabited for almost 700 years.

The development and collapse of East African seaports, as well as interactions between Bantu, Arabs, Persians, Indians, and Europeans, represent a key cultural and economic period in the region's history, which is best reflected in Lamu Old Town's architecture and town planning.

Narrow streets and majestic stone structures with amazing curved doors characterize the town, which is influenced by a unique blend of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian, and European architecture styles. When entering the town from the sea, the buildings on the seashore, with their arcades and open verandas, create a coherent visual image of the town.

Internally, painted ceilings, big niches (madaka), small niches (zidaka), and pieces of Chinese porcelain adorn the vernacular structures. The structures are well-preserved and have a long history as examples of Swahili building technology based on coral, lime, and mangrove poles.

Lamu's architecture and urban layout graphically depict the cultural influences that have converged over 700 years from Europe, Arabia, and India, utilizing traditional Swahili skills to create a distinct culture. The property is distinguished by its distinctive Swahili architecture, which is marked by spatial order and twisting streets.

The origins of this labyrinth roadway arrangement can be traced back to Arab land distribution and urban construction practices. It is also characterised by clusters of homes separated into a number of small wards (mitaa), each of which is a collection of buildings inhabited by a number of closely linked lineages.

Lamu, dubbed the "cradle of Swahili civilization" by famous Swahili scholars, has grown in importance as a religious center in East and Central Africa since the 19th century, attracting professors of Islamic religion and Swahili culture. It is now a key repository of Swahili culture, with residents who have managed to preserve ancient values, as seen by a sense of social solidarity and coherence.

Lamu Old Town was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

(Source UNESCO)


  • KenyaSouthern & Coastal AreaLamu

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