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Kilwa Kisiwani. Source: renatehenkel / Adobe Stock.

Kilwa Kisiwani: The Ruins of a Medieval East African Empire (Video)


Nestled on an island off the Tanzanian coast lies the captivating ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani, a once-prosperous city that thrived as a vital global trade hub during the Kilwa Sultanate, until European influence altered its fate. Flourishing during the 10th century, Kilwa Kisiwani rose to prominence among the Swahili culture, akin to the city-states of Renaissance Italy. Renowned for its diverse trade, the city exchanged treasures from the African interior with the Middle East, India, Europe, and even China, accumulating wealth and power.

The ruins today offer a mesmerizing glimpse into the city's grandeur. Composed of majestic limestone blocks, remnants like the Great Mosque and the imposing Husuni Kubwa palace reflect the city's architectural marvels. A symbol of multiculturalism, Kilwa Kisiwani's origins were once a subject of debate, with colonial misconceptions challenging the idea of Africans building such a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city. Tragically, the city's golden era came to an end with the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, leading to abandonment and decline. Despite this, the Swahili culture endured, leaving a lasting legacy that persists in the lives of the millions who identify as Swahili today.

Top image: Kilwa Kisiwani. Source: renatehenkel / Adobe Stock.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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