Kilwa Kisiwani Tanzania

klwkswnThe coast of Tanzania holds some surprising discoveries.

Whilst Africa is generally thought of for its magnificent rift valley, sweeping grasslands and dense rain forests, if you travel the south coast of Tanzania you will find a landscape that is more reminiscent of a South Pacific island than traditional African savannah.

About 200 kilometres south of Dar es Salaam is the offshore island of Kilwa Kisiwani which houses the most important ruins anywhere along the Swahili Coast of East Africa.

Reasonably easy to reach, Kilwa Kisiwani lies directly opposite the mainland port of Kilwa Masoko, and a crossing takes only about ten minutes by motorboat, or anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes by dhow, depending on tides and weather conditions.

The island has a fascinating history.

” From the mid-13th to early 16th century, Kilwa Kisiwani stood at the hub of a gold-trading network that linked the gold fields of the present-day Zimbabwean interior to Arabia and Asia.”  

The merchants of Kilwa were very entrepreneurial and often dealt in gold, silver, pearls, perfumes, Arabian crockery, Persian earthenware and Chinese porcelain; it is estimated that much of the trade in the Indian Ocean passed directly through their hands.

Because of this, much wealth was accumulated on the island so, 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.

The imposing partially collapsed fort, known locally as the Gereza, dominates the shoreward side of Kilwa Kisiwani. This is a relatively modern building, built around 1800 during a brief Omani occupation of the island. A short footpath uphill leads from here to the main ruins.  The older ruins are a great example of Swahili architecture, and are quite unique.

Because of its location near the border with Mozambique, Kilwa Kisiwani is not often visited by travellers.

“Also, a permit is needed to visit the ruins of Kisiwani itself, and this can be easily obtained from the local government building on the main road in Kilwa Masoko.” 

Most visitors base themselves in Kilwa Masoko, which has good air and road connections with other parts of Tanzania.

As well as visiting the ruins, diving, and snorkelling and merely lazing on the beaches as the other popular pastimes here.

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