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Coastal Tanzania - Kilwa

Lost Cities of gold

In the early 13th Century the coast of Kilwa suddenly developed from a fairly insignificant group of settlements into the most powerful trade centre on the East African Coast. Why? The answer lies 1500km to the South at the lost coastal city of Sofola in Mozambique. Sofola was once the coastal capital of a wealthy civilisation called the Monomotapa Kingdom. It has been identified with the Biblical Ophir (a port or region mentioned in the Bible, famous for its wealth. King Solomon is supposed to have received a cargo of gold, silver, sandalwood , precious stones, ivory , apes and peacocks from Ophir, every three years). Sofola's ancient Monomopatan rulers are believed to be descendants of the queen of Sheba. The Arabs conquered the Monomopatans and ruled the Port city of Sofala for over 200 years; from 915 AD until it reached its economic peak in 700 AD. They were followed by traders from Persia. The Persians defeated the Arabs and took Sofala in the 1100s and strengthened its trading capacity by having, among other things, river-going dhows ply the Sofala river to ferry mountains of gold extracted in the Hinterland ( Zimbabwe ) to the coast. In the 13th Century, the city of Kilwa was established by an Arab Sultan. The Arab Sultans of Kilwa who followed frequently sailed south and attempted to recapture Sofola for the next 100 years until the tables finally turned in the 14th Century, and the Persians were ousted from Sofala by an Arab Sultan, of Kilwa.

Archeological and Architectural evidence of this turbulent and wealthy past can be found at many sites in modern day Kilwa - it has some of the oldest and most impressive ruins in Tanzania.


Kilwa Islands

The historically important Island of Kilwa Kisiwani lies opposite the shores of Kilwa's main town Kilwa Masoko (or Kilwa Market Town). Kilwa Kisiwani Island houses the ruins of its Arab settlers. These are considered to be one of the most significant groups of Swahili buildings on the East African Coast. They include an Arabic Fort built on the site of a 16th Century Portuguese fort, The Great Mosque dating back to the 13th Century, a smaller 15th Century Mosque, the compound of a Mid-18th Century Sultan.

The Island of Songo Mnara contains the 14th and 15th Century ruins of a Palace, several Mosques, and houses. The nearby smaller Island of Sanje Ya Kati has some more ruins of a similar era.

The group of Islands collectively named Songo Songo are an important nesting area for sea Turtles and marine Birds.

Coastal Kilwa

Kilwa Kivinje is located 25km South of Kilwa Market Town. Kivinje has a small pretty dhow port. Traditional Swahili hand carved wooden doors still decorate the village houses and add to its exotic mystique.

The Beaches

There are many amazing private beaches in Kilwa, in addition the Islands of Mafia lie just off Kilwa's coastline.


Kilwa is not a shopping destination but a visit to the town Market is a worthwhile experience. For entertainment there are various beach side bandas (local cafes) playing live local music and serving cold drinks.


Fact File

Location Off Coast of East Africa 8 °57'.3S 39°30'.0E
Coastal Port Towns Kilwa Masoko, Kilwa Kisiwani, Kilwa Kivinje.
Shopping Kilwa Masoko Market
Languages English, Swahili
Tanga Islands Kilwa Kisiwani, Mwanamkaya Reef



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