Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara
Ruins Of Kilwa Kisiwani And Ruins Of Songo Mnara
Cultural United Republic Of Tanzania Africa Lindi Region, District Of Kilwa

Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara are two archaeological sites of prime importance to the understanding of the Swahili culture, the Islamization of the east coast of Africa and the extensive commerce of the medieval period and the modern era. These are islands, situated close to each other, off the Tanzanian coast. On each island a complex of ruins has been preserved, but those of Kilwa Kisiwani are by far the most important.

The site has been occupied from the 9th to 19th centuries and reached its peak in the 13th and 14th centuries. Among the many monuments these are some of the most important:

  • The vestiges of the Great Mosque, constructed in the 12th century of coral tiles imbedded in a core of puddled clay, but considerably enlarged in the 15th century in the reign of Sultan Soulaiman ibn Mohammed el Malik el Adil (1412-22).
  • The remains of the Husuni Kubwa Palace, built between around 1310 and 1333 by the sultan Al Hasan.
  • Numerous mosques.
  • The Geraza (Swahili for 'prison') constructed on the ruins of the Portuguese fortress.
  • An entire urban complex with houses, public squares, burial grounds, etc.
  • The ruins of Songo Mnara, at the extreme north of the island of Songo, comprise five mosques and a number of domestic dwellings of puddled clay and wood within the enclosure walls. A poorly identified construction of larger dimensions is known as 'the palace'.

The ceramics and small objects gathered during the excavations bear exceptional testimony to the commercial, and consequently cultural, exchanges of which Kilwa, and to a lesser extent, Songo were the theatre. Cowrie shells and beads of glass, carnelian or quartz were mixed with porcelain of the Sung dynasty as a medium of exchange from the 12th century. Chinese porcelain and Islamic monochrome faience continued to be the vectors of a bartering system well after the appearance of a monetary atelier at Kilwa.