Ancient port city of the East African coast


Region: Lindi

Category: Ruins/Heritage site

To-do activities:

Walking safari, bicycle cycling, historical site visit, bird watching, swimming, and camping

Best time to visit:

Throughout the year. 


There are multiple hotels, guest houses and lodges available at Kilwa

About Kilwa

Kilwa is home to the famous archeological and historic island named Kilwa Kisiwani – found on the island part of Kilwa. The town is believed to be captured around the 8th century AD and since then it grew to become one of the strongest towns along the Indian Ocean trade line.

Kilwa Kisiwani was a Swahili trading city, and according to Pollard, Kilwa Kisiwani reached its highest point in wealth and commerce between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. This was mainly attributed to the strong control of the Indian Ocean trade with Asia, Arabia, and India where much of the trade passed through their hands. During this time, the merchants of Kilwa dealt in gold, silver, pearls, perfumes, Arabian crockery, Persian earthenware, and Chinese porcelain

Some of the monumental structures on this island include the Portuguese fort, the Great Mosque – constructed between the 11th and 13th century, cemeteries, Husuni Kubwa and Husuni Ndogo. The remains of this town, along with Songo Mnara, were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980. Read more…

Later on they were placed in a list of world heritage sites in danger until 2014 when the management of the islands was deemed good enough for them to be removed from the list .

"The city of Kilwa is amongst the most beautiful of cities and elegantly built.”

― Ibn Battuta, Islamic traveler, 1332

Kilwa's decline began with internal dynasty conflicts, so the city was already weak and unprepared for the Portuguese's impending entrance into the area in 1505. The Portuguese were aiming to establish a presence and complete control over the rich area trade following Vasco da Gama's voyage in the late 1400s.

The Portuguese attacked and occupied Kilwa (1505 - 1512), leaving many of its buildings in ruins. As a consequence of this presence, inland traders now conducted their business with more northerly Swahili ports such as Mombasa. Kilwa's importance quickly faded and shortly after it was just deserted.

During their occupation, the Portuguese also built a fort and used it to punish anyone who resisted their occupation. This fort was later on used. by the Germans and Arabs as garrison.

Interesting facts about Kilwa

  • The Great Mosque of Kilwa Kisiwani is the oldest mosque still in existence on the coast of East Africa. Its dome was also the largest in East Africa until the 19th century

  • Kilwa Kisiwani minted its own coins from the 11th to 14th century. Some of the remains were found in Oman and ancient city of Great Zimbabwe

  • Kilwa is crucial to the Islamization of East Africa and development of the Swahili culture, dating back as far as the 10th century

  • Home to one of the finest architecture pre-colonial era. The "queen's house" residence, for example, has an octagonal swimming pool, many courtyards, an 18-domed mosque, and around 100 rooms. It was one of Sub-Saharan Africa's biggest pre-colonial homes.

Journey to Kilwa

Kilwa is found in the Southern part of Tanzania, about 330km from the Dar es Salaam region. The journey takes about 5 to 6 hours by road, with options for chartered flights as well. As a town along the Indian Ocean, Kilwa has some beautiful views of the beach and sunset on select areas. There are several hotels, lodges, Airbnb, and guest houses by the beach that you can find and book via various platforms on the internet. The culture is predominantly Swahili and Islamic.

Previously, the journey from the mainland to the historic island (Kilwa Kisiwani) could take up to one hour depending on whether or not you hired a boat for yourself or waited for the ones used by locals and share the fare. Currently the island is effectively managed by TAWA, who have a special speedboat, with a glass window beneath for ocean tourism, and safety equipment to keep you safe through the journey. Also, through their intervention, the tour is now more informative and the artifacts are better kept. Being my second time there, I should really commend the good work they have done.

All the payments are now made electronically using government-issued control numbers. After you are done with the tour you may visit the various beaches around and enjoy the Swahili dishes and cuisine. Generally, Kilwa is a very slow and quiet city. The locals are so friendly and always welcoming - as it is with the Swahili culture. 

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