Kilwa is Located on two islands close to each other just off the Tanzanian coast about 300km south of Dar es Salaam are the remains of two port cites, Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara. The larger, Kilwa Kisiwani, was occupied from the 9th to the 19th century and reached its peak of prosperity in the13th and 14th centuries. In 1331-1332, the great traveler, Ibn Battouta made a stop here and described Kilwa as one of the most beautiful cities of the world.
Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara were Swahili trading cities and their prosperity was based on control of Indian Ocean trade with Arabia, India and China, particularly between the 13th and 16th centuries, when gold and ivory from the hinterland was traded for silver, carnelians, perfumes, Persian faience and Chinese porcelain. Kilwa Kisiwani minted its own currency in the 11th to 14th centuries. In the 16th century, the Portuguese established a fort on Kilwa Kisiwani and the decline of the two islands began.
The remains of Kilwa Kisiwani cover much of the island with many parts of the city still 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.
The ruins of Songo Mnara, at the northern end of the island, consist of the remains of five mosques, a palace complex, and some thirty-three domestic dwellings constructed of coral stones and wood within enclosing walls.
The islands of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara bear exceptional testimony to the expansion of Swahili coastal culture, the lslamisation of East Africa and the extraordinarily extensive and prosperous Indian Ocean trade from the medieval period up to the modern era.
Day trip Kilwa Ruins
- UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.
- Travel to the island by traditional dhow.
- Visit ruins of forts, palaces, mosques.
- See Africa’s first swimming pool.
- The old German administrative capital of the region.
- Old German ruins and quiet but beautiful bay.
- Maji maji rebellion memorial site.
From the beach then our nearby town is well worth a visit. It is the administrative capital of the region, but remains small and welcoming.
Wander down the dusty road surrounded by dukas small shops selling everything from Islamic texts (Kilwa is predominantly Muslim) and kitchen-ware to barbershops blaring R&B music with murals of Puff Daddy on the outside walls. If you want a flavour of modern-day Africa, it’s here. Round the corner and your back in the 1950s, the post office boasts a manually operated telephone exchange, sitting proudly next to the posters offering broadband internet.
“Masoko” means market and the covered hallway is still the town’s hub. Here you can buy all the staples as well as some more unusual items: okra, lemon-yellow aubergines that are chilli hot, and – bizarrely – sausage-shaped lumps of clay for pregnant-women with food cravings.