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Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara

TanzaniaEastern CircuitDar es Salaam


Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara 

The ruins of two port cities, Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, are located on two islands close to each other just off the Tanzanian coast about 300 kilometers south of Dar es Salaam. Kilwa Kisiwani, the greater of the two, was occupied from the 9th to the 19th centuries, and its prosperity peaked in the 13th and 14th centuries. Ibn Battouta, a notable traveler, stopped here in 1331-1332 and rated Kilwa as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara were Swahili trading cities whose prosperity was based on control of Indian Ocean trade with Arabia, India, and China, especially between the 13th and 16th centuries, when gold and ivory from the hinterland were exchanged for silver, carnelians, perfumes, Persian faience, and Chinese porcelain. From the 11th to the 14th century, Kilwa Kisiwani had its own currency. The Portuguese built a fort on Kilwa Kisiwani in the 16th century, and the two islands began to collapse.

Kilwa Kisiwani's ruins can be found all across the island, with large areas of the city yet unexcavated. The substantial standing ruins, built of coral and lime mortar, include the Great Mosque constructed in the 11th century and considerably enlarged in the 13th century, and roofed entirely with domes and vaults, some decorated with embedded Chinese porcelain; the palace Husuni Kubwa built between c1310 and 1333 with its large octagonal bathing pool; Husuni Ndogo, numerous mosques, the Gereza (prison) constructed on the ruins of the Portuguese fort and an entire urban complex with houses, public squares, burial grounds, etc.

Songo Mnara's ruins, located on the island's northern tip, include the remnants of five mosques, a palace complex, and thirty-three household structures built of coral stones and wood within enclosing walls.

From the medieval period to the current age, the islands of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara give extraordinary testimony to the spread of Swahili coastal culture, the lslamisation of East Africa, and the unusually vast and wealthy Indian Ocean trade.

The Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

(Source UNESCO)


  • TanzaniaEastern CircuitDar es Salaam

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