Along the southern coast of Tanzania, the ancient ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani give themselves slowly to the encroaching jungle and the relentless cycles of the tide. Once the very epicentre of Swahili culture and civilisation, all that is left of Kilwa Kisiwani are the old building blocks of the town — fire baked limestone, coral blocks, a few shattered tiles. Nothing else remains except the lush coconuts and old trees that give witness to habitation here many years ago.
The ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani were once the centre of trade along the entire East African coast and the driving force behind the complex networks of trade caravans and dhow expeditions that encouraged the Swahili to thrive and prosper.
During its heyday in the 13th to 15th century, trade with Sofala in Mozambique, India to the east, and Arabia to the north propelled Kilwa’s fortunes to unbelievable heights. Together with the nearby ruins of Songo Mnara, archaeologists and historians consider Kilwa one of the most important sites of Swahili civilization in the region.
The coral and limestone walls of the old mosque, sultans’ palaces, and merchants’ houses are all the more sumptuous in their rather dilapidated state – fig tree roots weave in and out of old windows and the rustle of the ocean palms never far away.