Kilwa Kisiwani

Kilwa Kisiwani is a community on an Indian Ocean island off the southern coast of present-day Tanzania in eastern Africa. Historically, it was the center of the Kilwa Sultanate, a medieval sultanate whose authority at its height in the 13th-15th centuries CE stretched the entire length of the Swahili Coast. Kilwa Kisiwani has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site along with the nearby stonetown Songo Mnara.

Kilwa Kisiwani
Great Mosque at Kilwa
LocationLindi Region, Tanzania
Coordinates8°57′36″S 39°30′46″E / 8.9600°S 39.5128°ECoordinates: 8°57′36″S 39°30′46″E / 8.9600°S 39.5128°E
Official name: Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara
Designated1981 (5th session)
Reference no.144
UNESCO RegionAfrica
Kilwa Kisiwani is located in Tanzania
Kilwa Kisiwani
Location of Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania

History and archaeology

Kilwa Kisiwani is an archaeological city-state site located along the Swahili Coast on the Kilwa archipelago. It was occupied from at least the 8th century CE and became one of the most powerful settlements along the coast. The seasonal wind reversals would affect trade circulations.[1] Trade connections with the Arabian Peninsula as well as India and China influenced the growth and development of Kilwa, and, though there are Islamic words and customs that have been adapted to the culture, the origins are African.[2] Many of the Swahili settlements showed complex layouts that reflected social relations between groups, however at Kilwa, there are many questions still left unanswered about the town layout. The cemeteries were located on the edge of the town, which was common for the region, and large, open spaces were likely used for social gatherings.[3] An important city for trade, around the 13th century there were increased fortifications and a greater flow of goods. For these to take place, there would need to be a form of political administration overseeing the city, controlling the movement of goods. Much of the trade networks were with the Arabian peninsula. Kilwa Kisiwani reached its highest point in wealth and commerce between 13th and 15th centuries CE.[2]

Evidence of growth in wealth can be seen with the appearance of stone buildings around the 13th century CE, before which all of the buildings were wattle-and-daub. The socio-economic status of the individuals residing there could be clearly seen in the type of structure they were living in. Among Kilwa's exports were spices, tortoiseshell, coconut oil, ivory, and aromatic gums, as well as gold.[1] At around this time, Kilwa had seized control over the trade of gold at Sofala. The wealthy also possessed more commercial goods than the individuals who were of the lower class did. Luxury cloths and foreign ceramics were among a few of the items they would have owned, though some items, such as luxury clothes, do not preserve in the archaeological record.[2] For approximately 500 years, Kilwa was minting coins. This lasted from about A.D 1100-1600 and the coins have been found across the region, including Great Zimbabwe.[4]

Marine resources were abundant and utilized for food. Food sources would also come from the surrounding land. But because of the huge impact the sea, with all of the resources and trade opportunities, had on Kilwa, the archaeological investigation of the harbors and ports is considered to be quite important. The soil at Kilwa that was found over the limestone was of poor quality, so the land food sources came from the areas of higher ground. However, the soil in the Kilwa region would have been suitable for growing cotton, which could be used in sail manufacturer. 12th century spindle whorls have been found, indicating that cotton was used and processed in this area.[2]


At first, most of the focus was placed on the archaeology of Kilwa's ports and harbors, however, more and more emphasis is being placed on Kilwa's hinterlands. Ceramic artifacts are plentiful at the site and can be divided into two groups: regional and coastal. All of the ceramics with regional distribution were locally produced, but the area of distribution is limited. These unglazed ceramics were referred to as Kitchen Wares, though their uses were not necessarily just as cooking vessels. All of the varieties of locally produced pottery found in the region were also uncovered at the site of Kilwa itself.[5]

While the Kitchen Wares could be seen throughout the region, there were ceramics that were mostly seen within Kilwa itself. These included modeled forms and red-burnished wares. The distribution pattern of the red-burnished wares was coastal. Other ceramic types that were seemingly restricted to town were the imported ceramic vessels from the Arabian peninsula and China. Imported ceramic materials are not found in rural areas. They were used as a sign of social status by the elite. They were kept in wall niches made just for the purpose of displaying them. These imported ceramics played important symbolic roles along the Swahili Coast. The symbolism attached to the imported ceramics was so strong that it carried on to modern Swahili culture. The lack of imported goods in the hinterlands indicates that, while Kilwa was undergoing a process of urbanization, the local communities did not undergo a dramatic transformation.[5]


In 2004, Kilwa Kisiwani was inscribed on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger. There is a serious rapid deterioration of the archaeological and monumental heritage of these two islands due to various agents like erosion and vegetation. The eastern section of the Palace of Husuni Kubwa, for example, is progressively disappearing. The damage to the soil caused by rainwater wash is accentuating the risks of the collapse of the remaining structures on the edge of the cliff. The vegetation that proliferates on the cliff has limited the progression of the rain-wash effect but causes the break-up of the masonry structures. The World Monuments Fund included Kilwa on its 2008 Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites, and since 2008 has been supporting conservation work on various buildings.

Notable features

Great Mosque

The Great Mosque of Kilwa is a congregational mosque on the island of Kilwa Kisiwani, in Tanzania. It was likely founded in the tenth century, but the two major stages of construction date to the eleventh or twelfth and thirteenth century, respectively. It is one of the earliest surviving mosques on the Swahili Coast.

The smaller northern prayer hall dates to the first phase of construction. It contained a total of 16 bays supported by nine pillars, which were originally carved from coral but later replaced by timber. The structure was entirely roofed, and was perhaps one of the first mosques in the area to have been built without a courtyard.

In the early fourteenth century, Sultan al-Hasan ibn Sulaiman, who also built the nearby Palace of Husuni Kubwa, added a southern extension which included a great dome. This dome was described by Ibn Battuta after he visited Kilwa in 1331.

Palace of Husuni Kubwa

Kilwa Kisiwani Fort
The fort on the banks of Kilwa Kisiwani.

Husuni Kubwa (the "Great Fort"), situated outside the town, was an early 14th-century sultan's palace and emporium. Other defining features include causeways and platforms at the entrance of the Harbour made from blocks of reef and coral nearly a meter high. These act as breakwaters, allowing mangroves to grow which is one of the ways the breakwater can be spotted from a distance. Some parts of the causeway are made from the bedrock, but usually the bedrock was used as a base. Coral stone was used to build up the causeways with sand and lime being used to cement the cobbles together. Some of the stones were left loose.[6]

The Palace of Husuni Kubwa is a ruined structure on the island of Kilwa Kisiwani, in Tanzania. The majority of the palace was erected in the 14th century by Sultan al-Hasan ibn Sulaiman, who also built an extension to the nearby Great Mosque of Kilwa, although portions may date back to the 13th century. The palace was inhabited only for a brief period of time, and abandoned before its completion.

The structure was built out of coral stone on a high bluff overlooking the Indian Ocean. It consists of three major elements: a south court, used primarily for commerce; a residential complex including over one hundred individual rooms; and a wide stairway leading down a mosque that was situated on the beach. Other notable features include pavilion, which likely served as a reception hall, and an octagonal swimming pool. All of Husuni Kubwa spans across approximately two acres. The coral rag was set in limestone mortar and cut stone was used for decorative pieces, door jams, and vaults. The rooms were about 3 meters tall. The roof was made from cut limestone blocks laid across cut timbers and the floors were white plaster. The main entrance to Husuni Kubwa is from the shore. Most of the imported glazed pottery recovered at the site was Chinese celadon, though there were a few Ying Ch'ing stoneware sherds present. A Yuan dynasty flask dated to about C.E. 1300. Neither the Kilwa Chronicle nor any Portuguese accounts describe a building comparable to Husuni Kubwa.[7]

Husuni Ndogo

Husuni Ndogo ("Little Fort") is built from coral rubble and limestone mortar. The rectangular enclosure wall surrounds the complex and at each corner stands a tower. The foundations extend two meters below ground level. It appears to have been built as a fort, but the exact purposes and uses are somewhat unknown. There is some evidence that it, for at least a time, was used as a mosque. Architecturally, it appears to be different from other buildings along the coast, resembling buildings constructed under the Caliphs of the Umayyad at around C.E. 661-750. However, whether or not the structure is related or even dates to the Arabic buildings remains uncertain, though it seems unlikely.[7]

Outside influence

City of Kilwa, 1572
A 1572 depiction of the city of Kilwa from Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg's atlas Civitates orbis terrarum.

A document written around CE 1200 called al-Maqama al Kilwiyya, discovered in Oman, gives details of a mission to reconvert Kilwa to Ibadism, as it had recently been affected by the Ghurabiyya Shia doctrine from southern Iraq.

According to local oral tradition, in the 11th century the island of Kilwa Kisiwani was sold to Ali bin Hasan, son of the "King" of Shiraz, in Persia. Another tradition relates that his mother was [[Somali] Ali bin Al-Hasan is credited with founding the island city and with marrying the daughter of the local king. Though he was credited with the founding, he had arrived at an already inhabited area. He did, however, come to power and is credited with fortifying the city and increasing trade.[1] Tradition also relates that it was the child of this union who founded the Kilwa Sultanate. Archaeological and documentary research has revealed that over the next few centuries, Kilwa grew to be a substantial city and the leading commercial entrepôt on the southern half of the Swahili Coast (roughly from the present Tanzanian-Kenya border southward to the mouth of the Zambezi River), trading extensively with states of the Southeast African hinterland as far as Zimbabwe. Trade was mainly in gold, iron, ivory and other animal products of the interior for beads, textiles, jewelry, porcelain and spices from Asia.

By the 12th century, under the rule of the Abu'-Mawahib dynasty, Kilwa had become the most powerful city on the Swahili Coast. At the zenith of its power in the 15th century, the Kilwa Sultanate claimed authority over the city-states of Malindi, Mvita (Mombasa), Pemba Island, Zanzibar, Mafia Island, Comoro, Sofala and the trading posts across the channel on Madagascar.

Ibn Battuta recorded his visit to the city around 1331, and commented favorably on the generosity, humility, and religion of its ruler, Sultan al-Hasan ibn Sulaiman. Ibn Battuta also describes how the sultan would go into the interior and raid the people taking slaves and other forms of wealth. He was also particularly impressed by the planning of the city and believed that it was the reason for Kilwa's success along the coast.[8] From this period date the construction of the Palace of Husuni Kubwa and a significant extension to the Great Mosque of Kilwa, which was made of coral stones—the largest mosque of its kind. Kilwa was an important and also wealthy city for the trade of gold, because of this some of the people who lived in Kilwa had a higher standard of living, but many others were also poor. The wealthy enjoyed indoor plumbing in their stone homes and the poor lived in mud huts with thatched roofs.[9]

In the early 16th century, Vasco da Gama extorted tribute from the wealthy Islamic state. In 1505 another Portuguese force commanded by D. Francisco de Almeida took control of the island after besieging it. It remained in Portuguese hands until 1512, when an Arab mercenary captured Kilwa after the Portuguese abandoned their outpost. The city regained some of its earlier prosperity, but in 1784 was conquered by the Omani rulers of Zanzibar. After the Omani conquest, the French built and manned a fort at the northern tip of the island, but the city itself was abandoned in the 1840s. It was later part of the colony of German East Africa from 1886 to 1918.


The town is located within the Kilwa District of the Lindi Region.

It is possible to visit the island of Kilwa Kisiwani and most people base themselves in Kilwa Masoko. The town Kilwa Masoko can be reached by bus from Dar es Salaam (leaving Mbagala bus stop), and is served by Coastal Aviation. There are numerous basic guesthouses and a handful of tourist hotels, mostly spread along Jimbiza beach and the beautiful and highly regarded Masoko Pwani.

A permit is needed to visit the ruins of Kisiwani itself, and can be easily obtained from the local government building on the main road in Kilwa Masoko. Once the permit has been obtained it is easy to arrange dhow transport over the narrow channel to Kisiwani.


  1. ^ a b c Elkiss, Terry A. (1973). "Kilwa Kisiwani: The Rise of an East African City-State". African Studies Review. 16 (1): 119–130. doi:10.2307/523737.
  2. ^ a b c d Pollard, Edward John (2008). "THe maritime landscape of Kilwa Kisiwani and its region, Tanzania, 11th to 15th century CE". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. 27: 265–280. doi:10.1016/j.jaa.2008.07.001.
  3. ^ Fleisher, Jeffery; Wynne-Jones, Stephanie (2012). "Finding Meaning in Ancient Swahili Spatial Practices". Afr Archaeol Rev. 29: 171–207. doi:10.1007/s10437-012-9121-0.
  4. ^ Chami, Felix A. (1998). "A Review of Swahili Archaeology". African Archaeological Review. 15 (3): 199–218. doi:10.1023/a:1021612012892.
  5. ^ a b Wynne-Jones, Stephanie (2007). "Creating urban communities at Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania, CE 800-1300". Antiquity. 81: 368–380. doi:10.1017/s0003598x00095247.
  6. ^ Pollard, Edward (2008). "Inter-Tidal Causeways and Platforms of the 13th- to 16th-Century City-States of Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania". The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 1 (37): 98–114. doi:10.1111/j.1095-9270.2007.00167.x.
  7. ^ a b Chittick, Neville (1963). "Kilwa and the Arab Settlement of the East African Coast". The Journal of African History. 4 (2): 179–190. doi:10.1017/s0021853700004011. JSTOR 179533.
  8. ^ Dunn, Ross E. (2005). The adventures of Ibn Battuta, a Muslim traveler of the fourteenth century (Rev. ed. with a new pref. ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520243854.
  9. ^ The Travels of Ibn Battuta

Further reading

  • Chittick, H. Neville (1974), Kilwa: an Islamic trading city on the East African coast (2 Vols), Nairobi: British Institute in Eastern Africa. Volume 1: History and archaeology; Volume 2: The finds.

External links

External video
Historic Sites of Kilwa, 4:06, World Monuments Fund[1]
Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania, 8:49, Smarthistory[2]
  1. ^ "Historic Sites of Kilwa". World Monuments Fund. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  2. ^ "Kilwa Kisiwani, Tanzania". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
A Tourist in Africa

A Tourist in Africa is a travel book by the British writer Evelyn Waugh. It appeared in 1960, many years after his travel writings of the 1930s.The book is in the form of a diary, describing a tour of East Africa from January to April 1959. Events and sights are described with perception and clarity, and the history associated with a particular place is often discussed.


Aluka was an online digital library focusing on materials about Africa. Aluka's mission is to connect scholars from around the world by building a common platform that allows online collaboration and knowledge sharing. Aluka's audience is higher education and research communities worldwide.

Aluka is an initiative of Ithaka Harbors, which is a non profit organization that has a mission of incubating promising new projects that support the use of technology for the benefit of higher education. An assumption of the incubation process is that successful projects will eventually become independent or join larger, existing organizations serving the academic community. In June 2008, the Ithaka and JSTOR Trustees approved a recommendation that the Aluka initiative be integrated into JSTOR.

Founded in 2003, Aluka was an initiative of Ithaka, a non-profit organization based in New York City and Princeton, New Jersey. The initial funding was provided by the Mellon Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Stavros S. Niarchos Foundation.

The first release of Aluka took place in early February 2007 with preview access to JSTOR subscribers. In Africa, Aluka is free to all academic and other not-for-profit institutions.

The name 'Aluka' is derived from a Zulu word meaning 'to weave'.

Aluka seeks to attract other collections of scholarly interest from institutions and individuals worldwide. By bringing materials together, Aluka creates new opportunities for research and collaboration. Documents and materials that were previously hard or impossible to access are now available for researchers around the world.

Great Mosque of Kilwa

The Great Mosque of Kilwa is a congregational mosque on the island of Kilwa Kisiwani, in Tanzania. It was likely founded in the tenth century, but the two major stages of construction date to the eleventh or twelfth and thirteenth century, respectively. It is one of the earliest surviving mosques on the east African coast and is one of the first mosques built without a courtyard.

The smaller northern prayer hall dates to the first phase of construction and was built in the 11th or 12th century. It contained a total of 16 bays, supported by nine pillars, originally carved from coral but later replaced by timber. The structure, which was entirely roofed, was perhaps one of the first mosques to have been originally built without a courtyard.

It was modified in the 13th century adding side pilasters, timber, transverse beams.

In the early fourteenth century, Sultan al-Hasan ibn Sulaiman, who also built the nearby Palace of Husuni Kubwa, added a southern extension which included a great dome. This dome was described by Ibn Battuta after he visited Kilwa in 1331.

Kilwa District

Kilwa one of the 6 districts of the Lindi Region of Tanzania. It is bordered to the North by the Pwani Region, to the East by the Indian Ocean, to the South by the Lindi Rural District and to the West by the Liwale District. The district includes the island of Kilwa Kisiwani in the Indian Ocean.

According to the 2002 Tanzania National Census, the population of the Kilwa District was 171,850. Recent (2003 through to at least 2007) developments in the area include the development of a significant natural gas field underlying the Songo Songo Island group in the Indian Ocean, and continuing efforts to locate hydrocarbon reserves (oil and/or gas) along structural trends around the Songo Songo group at least as far north as the island of Nyuni. These researches have not been completed.

These developments have already made the district economically important, and as industries are developed along the pipeline route, this level of economic importance is expected to be increased, even if the other hydrocarbon searches are unsuccessful.

Kilwa Masoko

Kilwa Masoko is a port town on the Indian Ocean in southeastern Tanzania. Kilwa Masoko is the current major town of Kilwa District and includes all the hotels in the area as well as a bustling market, beautiful beaches, small fishing communities and is the gateway to the ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani. On nearby Kilwa Kisiwani island there are ancient Swahili ruins which were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

The hotels in Masoko are spread along the coastline but there is a group close to town on JImbiza beach and the newer hotels are on the beautiful Masoko Pwani.

Kingdom of Mapungubwe

The Kingdom of Mapungubwe (or Maphungubgwe) (c.1075–1220) was a pre-colonial state in Southern Africa located at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, south of Great Zimbabwe. The name is derived from either TjiKalanga and Tshivenda. The name means "Hill of Jackals". The kingdom was the first stage in a development that would culminate in the creation of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe in the 13th century, and with gold trading links to Rhapta and Kilwa Kisiwani on the African east coast. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe lasted about 80 years, and at its height its population was about 5000 people. The Mapungubwe Collection is a museum collection of artifacts found at the archaeological site and is housed in the Mapungubwe Museum in Pretoria.

This archaeological site can be attributed to the BuKalanga Kingdom, which comprises the Bakalanga people from northeast Botswana, the Kalanga from Western Zimbabwe, the Nambya on the Zambezi Valley, and the Vha Venda in the northeast of South Africa. They were the first Bantu to cross the Limpopo River to the south, and established their kingdom where the Shashe and Limpopo conjoined (Sha-limpo).

Lindi Region

Lindi Region is one of Tanzania's 31 administrative regions. The regional capital is the municipality of Lindi. According to the 2012 national census, the region had a population of 864,652, which was lower than the pre-census projection of 960,236. For 2002-2012, the region's 0.9 percent average annual population growth rate was the 29th highest in the country. It was also the least densely populated region with 13 people per square kilometer.The Lindi Region borders on Pwani Region, Morogoro Region, Ruvuma Region, and Mtwara Region. Much of the western part of the Lindi Region is in the Selous Game Reserve.

The regional commissioner of the Lindi Region is Godfrey Zambi.

List of World Heritage sites in Tanzania

The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage sites are places of importance to cultural or natural heritage as described in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, established in 1972. Tanzania ratified the convention on 2 August 1977, making its historical sites eligible for inclusion on the list. Tanzania has 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites and two of them are placed on the World Heritage sites in danger.

List of castles in Africa

This list of castles in Africa includes castles, forts, and mock castles in Africa.

List of islands of Tanzania

The following is the list of islands in the territory of Tanzania.

List of rulers of Pate

List of rulers of Pate

Located at Pate Island, Kenya.

Neville Chittick

Dr. Neville H. Chittick (September 18, 1924 – July 27, 1984) was a British scholar and archaeologist. He specialized in the historic cultures of Northeast Africa, and also devoted various works to the Swahili Coast.

Political history of East Africa

The following is a list of the 'Political History of East Africa.

Shirazi era

The "Shirazi era" refers to a mythic origin in the history of Southeast Africa (and especially Tanzania), between the 13th century and 15th century. Many Swahili in the central coastal region claim that their towns were founded by Persians from the Shiraz region in the 13th century. Once accepted as fact, modern research has disproved a Shirazi origin for the Swahili towns, instead emphasizing various social factors that induced claiming this identity.

Songo Mnara

On the Swahili Coast in southern Tanzania lie the ruins of a stone town known as Songo Mnara. The stone town was occupied from the 14th to 16th centuries. Songo Mnara has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with nearby stone town Kilwa Kisiwani. In total, archaeologists have found six mosques, four cemeteries, and two dozen house blocks along with three enclosed open spaces on the island. Songo Mnara was constructed from rough-coral and mortar. This stonetown was built as one of many trade towns on the Indian Ocean.

Sultan al-Hasan ibn Sulaiman

Sultan al-Hasan ibn Sulaiman, often referred to as "Abu'l-Mawahib" ("father of gifts"), ruled the island of Kilwa Kisiwani, in present-day Tanzania, from 1310 until 1333.

Al-Hasan ibn Sulaiman was a member of the Mahdali dynasty, and oversaw a period of great prosperity in his capital city of Kilwa. He built the extensive Palace of Husuni Kubwa outside of the city and added a significant extension to the Great Mosque of Kilwa. This building activity seems to have been inspired by the Sultan's pilgrimage to Mecca, whose great buildings he wished to emulate. In 1331 the traveller Ibn Battuta visited the court of the sultan and described the Sultan's great generosity, whence stemmed the appellation "father of gifts."


Zanj (Arabic: زَنْج‎; adjective Arabic: زنجي‎, translit. Zanjī, Persian: زنگی‎, translit. Zangī, Turkish: Zencî).) was a name used by medieval Muslim geographers to refer to both a certain portion of Southeast Africa (primarily the Swahili Coast) and to its Bantu inhabitants. This word is also the origin of the place-names Zanzibar ("coast of the black people") and the Sea of Zanj.

The latinization Zingium serves as an archaic name for the coastal area in modern Kenya and Tanzania in southern East Africa. The architecture of these commercial urban settlements are now a subject of study for urban planning. For centuries the coastal settlements were a source of ivory, gold, and slaves, from sections of the conquered hinterland, to the Indian Ocean world.

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