Ruined Cities in Tanzania (World Heritage)

By | August 19, 2021

The ruins of the two East African cities lie on two islands. In the Middle Ages they were important trading cities with extensive ties in the Indian Ocean based on the trade in gold, silver, pearls, Chinese porcelain and spices. The decline began at the end of the 14th century. The world heritage has been on the red list since 2004.

Ruined Cities in Tanzania: Facts

Official title: Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara
Cultural monument Ruined cities with palaces, fortresses and mosques on the islands of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara
continent Africa
country Tanzania
location Islands off the Tanzanian coast, south of Dar es Salaam
appointment 1981; on the Red List of World Heritage in Danger since 2004, as there are no measures to prevent the ruins from decaying
meaning important evidence of East African, Persian-Arab trading establishments that controlled trade in the Indian Ocean between the 13th and 16th centuries

Ruined Cities in Tanzania: History

9th century first settlement on the island of Kilwa Kisiwani settlement of Persians from Shiraz
10.-12. Century Heyday thanks to the gold trade
14th century Construction of the Sultan’s Palace
1505 Conquest of the Sultanate of Kilwa by the Portuguese
1589 Desolation of Kilwa Kisiwani
17./18. Century Arabs from Oman take over the trading business
18./19. Century Gereza Fortress
1830 Task of the city
1965 last restoration work

The early medieval Lisbon of East Africa

They were blown away. Nobody from the western world had suspected such a beauty, such a pearl of a trading town on the dark, black African east side of the unknown continent. According to listofusnewspapers, the great sultanate of Kilwa on today’s southern Tanzanian coast had existed for several hundred years, long before it was discovered by Portuguese seafarers at the turn of the 15th century. Vasco da Gama was overwhelmed by the beauty and modernity, by the wealth and the limitless hospitality of the Sultanate of Persian origin. One passenger described his impression: “The city is big and has good buildings made of stone and wood with terraces and balconies. The city extends to the lowest bank and is completely surrounded by a wall and towers, behind which around 12,000 people live. The surrounding area is very beautiful and has many trees and gardens with vegetables, lemons and lemons, the best oranges we have ever seen, granite apple trees, sugar cane, figs and well-fed goats. The streets of Kilwas are very narrow and the houses are built tall and one could walk from one to the other on their roofs. Many ships (dhows) come and go in the port. ”

But for the influential trading metropolis that controlled the gold trade with the Mwenemutapa empire in Zimbabwe, bought carpets from Persia and Gujarat (India) and even porcelain from China, the discovery marked the beginning of the end of a sultanate that had hitherto been hidden from the Europeans. For only a short time later, driven by greed, a large fleet returned under the leadership of Francisco d’Almeida: “Faster than the smile of those waiting to receive them could escape, the Portuguese swarmed into the surprised city and took it with all brutality. At dusk, the procession of the Franciscan monks who had traveled with them made their way up the hill to the palace. They carried two crosses and solemnly sang the Te Deum. “Most of the fleet traveled on after the sack of Kilwas,

If you set out early this morning on board a wooden dhow from the mainland to Kilwa Kisiwani (“Kilwa on the island”), the first thing you will see as you approach the sheltered island is the Portuguese memorial that marked the end of what was once so significant sultanate.

The fort known as “bereza” is indicative of the armed power claims of the south-west Europeans, and is the best-preserved ruin of Kilwa; however, it was also in the 18./19. It was rebuilt in the 19th century as part of the flourishing slave trade – presumably on the foundations of the former fort. The large, half-collapsed watchtower clearly protrudes from the mighty, several-meter-high foundation walls. Loopholes along the jagged palisade front point emphatically to the days of the occupying forces. The atmosphere here was more like the atmosphere in a cemetery, if it weren’t for the numerous palm trees, banana trees and huts of the local fishermen, which fill the space between the widely scattered ruins and breathe a little life into this image of the ephemeral.

Only the Makutani complex gives an idea of ​​the sultanate described by the Portuguese with its narrow streets. Its two palace ruins, the foundation walls of the mosques and the probable residential houses are surrounded by a largely intact wall.

Not only is the size of some buildings remarkable, but also the skill with which they were erected and decorated. In particular, the ruins of Husuni Kubwa, the largest pre-colonial building in equatorial Africa, indicate the once mighty position of Kilwas in the reflection of their former splendor. Little has been handed down from the former sultanate, and so some puzzles still remain for archaeologists to this day. But it seems that the answers to your questions will for the time being remain hidden in the partially exposed, otherwise overgrown foundation walls … and the ruins draw the visitor all the more under their spell of fascinating mystery.

Ruined Cities in Tanzania (World Heritage)