Website Category: East Africa's Swahili Coast
Criteria: (iii) cultural tradition
Location and Values: The ruins of these two medieval city-sates, Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, are found on two adjacent islands off the coast of Tanzania, about 200 km south of Dar es Salaam. At its height, in the 14th century, Kilwa Kisiwani was the single most important trading centre on the East African coast and its ruins include a number of mosques, a well-preserved Omani fortress, graves, and the remnants of a Great Palace that was, in its day, the largest permanent building in sub-Saharan Africa. Its great wealth was founded on its control of the gold trade with the Monomotapa kingdom with its capital at Great Zimbabwe.
On another island to the south the ruins of Songo Mnara include another palace complex from the same period, as well as houses, graves and a number of mosques surrounded by a defensive wall. These ruins are of prime importance to our understanding of the development of the Swahili culture and the spread and influence of Islam along the East African coast for 1000 years from the 9th century.
Slideshow of the Ruins Of Kilwa Kisiwani And Ruins Of Songo Mnara: The slideshow includes photos (provided by Florian Keller and his team at Enchanting Africa) of four of the main ruins at Kilwa Kisiwani, starting with the Omani fortress (Gereza) which dominates the shoreline at the point of arrival from the mainland. To the west are the massive 15th century perimeter walls of the Makutani Palace and nearby lie the remains of the Great Mosque, an impressive vaulted building with a multi-domed roof. The ruins are becoming overgrown and rather dominated by some impressive baobab trees. The largest of the ruins featured here is the Husuni Kubwa (Great Palace), which occupies a raised position 2km to the east, overlooking the mangroves.
Slideshow of the Ruins Of Kilwa Kisiwani And Ruins Of Songo Mnara:
Comments and Impressions: The site was added to the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2004 due to a continuing deterioration in its state of preservation.
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of Kilwa Kisiwani on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing other world heritage sites around Africa. Unfortunately the images of the ruins are not clear, but you can get a good sense of their general location and layout