Kilwa Ruins Toggle

UNESCO ruins of Kilwa ruins

UNESCO ruins of Kilwa ruins

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its influence on the birth of Swahili culture, what is now a fishing village was, a thousand years ago, occupied by Arabs. They minted gold and sold spices, jewellery and slaves, whilst holding licentious parties under the light of the moon. 

one of the most beautiful and well-constructed towns in the world

Ibn Battuta,

Kilwa Kisiwani Visitor


The Kilwa ruins are a must for any visitor to Kilwa and are a great help in understanding the Kilwa people and ancient Kilwa itself.

The history of ancient Kilwa and the Kilwa people:

In around Eight Hundred AD the Shirazi Arabs travelled by dhow from modern-day Iraq, when Europe was still embroiled in the dark ages. Within a few years these entrepreneurs amassed an unimaginable fortune by trading in gold mined deep in the African interior; modern day Sofala in Zimbabwe.

Soon the island became a commercial centre for the Islamic world and beyond; trading in items ranging from Persian earthenware to Chinese porcelain.

Visiting Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani

Visiting Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani

Mosques, a market place and an ostentatious palace were built. These can all be seen today in various states of ruin as well as the thousand-year-old resting place of the Sultan and his family.
Over the centuries Kisiwani’s fortunes fluctuated with changing gold-prices and the arrival of the Portuguese Vasca da Gama in 1502 heralded its decline and the Portuguese eventually built the crenulated gereza-fort which greets you at the harbour.

The city once again grew and became more important due to its connection with Zanzibar during the slave trade.

Songo Mnara, a neighbouring small island close to Kisiwani was a Swahili stone town which was inaugurated in the early 19th century. Its comparatively short history compared to its more illustrious neighbour of Kilwa Kisiwani has allowed archaeologists to examine early Swahili houses within a specific time period.

kilwa UNESCO

kilwa UNESCO

Both islands have been found to be cradles of the Swahili culture and were the starting points of the Islamization of the east coast of Africa.

Both islands were jointly awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1981.
You will travel over to Kisiwani in a traditional dhow and will be shown round the island by a local, English speaking guide. These trips can be extended to include the Ruins of Songo Mnara


Kilwa Kisiwani Ruins Facts
Portuguese fort

Portuguese fort

Day trip from Kilwa Beach Lodge

  • UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981.
  • English speaking guide.
  • Travel to the island by traditional dhow.
  • Visit ruins of forts, palaces, mosques.
  • See Africa’s first swimming pool.



Read the full history of Kilwa Kisiwani Ruins