Kilwa Kisiwani’s History

Kilwa Kisiwani became one of the most active commercial centres on the eastern coast of Africa by 1100.


Traders were visiting Kilwa from all over the Islamic world and gold coins were being minted while Europe was still embroiled in the dark ages.

Extensive ruins remain, including those of mosques, a Portuguese fort, and a 13th–14th-century palace while the rich and varied history is illustrated below:

Kilwa Kisiwani Timeline

1000 the island of Kilwa Kisiwani was sold to Ali bin Hasan, son of the “King” of Shiraz, in Persia
1100 Kilwa Kisiwani under the Abu’-Mawahib dynasty had become the most powerful city on the East African coast. It had grown by trading extensively with states of the African hinterland as far as Zimbabwe. Trade was mainly in gold, iron, ivory, and other animal products of the African interior for beads, textiles, jewelry, porcelain, and spices from Asia.
1300 It was during this period that the major architectural constructions were made work began on extending the Great Mosque, making it the largest of its kind throughout the world. Work also began on extending the Palace of Husuni Kubwa including sub-Saharan Africa’s first swimming pool.
1331 Ibn Battuta visited the island and in his published writings ‘The Rihla’, Ibn Battuta described Kilwa Kisiwani as “one of the most beautiful and well-constructed towns in the world”.
1400 Kilwa Kisiwani had reached its zenith with the ruling sultanate claiming authority over the city-states of Malindi, Mvita (Mombasa), Pemba Island, Zanzibar, Mafia Island, Comoro, Sofala, and many trading ports of Madagascar.
1502 Vasco Gama exacted tribute to the King of Portugal.
1505 Portuguese forces take control of the Island and begin construction of the Gereza, the fort and prison that can be seen on the approach to the island.
1512 An Arab mercenary took control of Kilwa Kisiwani and rebuilt the trading links with the African interior.
1784 The Omani rulers of Zanzibar took control.
1840 The city was finally abandoned.
1955 Archaeologists including James Kirkman and Neville Chittick from the British Institute in Eastern Africa started exploring the area.
1981 UNESCO declared the site a World Heritage Site.