Kilwa has actually 4 sites. To distinguish between the sites they gave them different names. Yesterday was the 19th century site of Kilwa Kivinje (Kilwa of the Causuarina Trees) which was first settled by the Omani Arabs after abandoning the island settlement of Kilwa Kisiwani (Kilwa on the island). On the mainland, from where the boat leaves, and where the lodges are, is Kilwa Masoko (Kilwa of the Market) which is a 20th century town. Further out is the island Songo Mnara (Songa with the Tower) where the Sultan of the time (14th-15th century) decided to build a second palace (summer/winter retreat?).

The boat took me first to Songo Mnara. It was an hour sail. It was low tide so we could not reach the shore. The boatman tried to carry me across the wet mudflat but that failed and he dropped me into the water. Now that my shoes were soaked, it did not matter much of what followed. That was a walk through a cutaway section of mangrove forest. Due to the rising sea level, the forest is moving more and more up into the island proper. The ruins here are close together. It is a sultan’s palace with individual houses and administration buildings around it. There is a main mosque and most houses have their own private small prayer room recognisable by the Mhirab which is in the direction of Mecca. On the outskirts are simple stone graves around small mosques and closer to the palace the more elaborate graves of the sultan’s family. The sultan himself is buried in his home country Persia. The palace has numerous rooms with attached bathroom and toilet, an inner open air audience square and administration room. The ruins are slowly overgrown by tall grass and Baobab trees. Restoration/salvation is being done as far as funds from Uneso and others are available.

Kilwa Kisiwani is older. Its first Mwera (a Bantu tribe) settlements started in 800 AD. It grew in the 13th century to be the centre of the vast trading network from the Shona Kingdom with the goldfields of Zimbabwe (via Sofala on the Mozambican coast) to Persia, India and China. Later, slaves were also exported to the new European colonial settlement on Reunion, Mauritius and Comoros. It is said that the son of the Sultan of Siraz (Persia)  bought the existing settlement from the local African ruler.

There are 3 historical sites to be visited on the island. The first is the old Portuguese fort from the beginning of the 16th century. Later the Omani sultan from Zanzibar took over and rebuilt the Portuguese fort (1780) and included Kilwa in their slave trading system.  A bit further along the coast is the sultans palace. Built from coral stone and cemented together with locally made limestone. This complex had 2 stories. The lower stories had no windows while the upper story did. They were covered with sloping flat roof. Beside audience courts and waiting rooms this palace had also a swimming pool for the sultans’ family. The ruins of the great Mosque with its many columns and graceful vaulted roof remind me of the mosque in Cordoba, Spain. Construction started in the 12th century and it was expanded with the vaulted roof in the 15th century.

From here it was a 40 min walk through fields and local settlements to a massive complex of buildings called Husini Kubwa situated on a low rising hill. It is the oldest building on the island (12th century) and said to have had over 1000 rooms. Many were used to store the trading goods. There was an open air theatre and an octagonal shaped swimming pool as well as an audience hall and the Sultans private quarters. Our boat made its way through the mangrove and picked us up here.

The whole day walking between and over the ruins was tiring and I decided to stay an extra day at the very peaceful beachside lodge of Kilwani Beach. Yesterday we could hardly find it because we took a wrong turn on one of the many sand roads. Now going out and in once you know the way is no problem. The lodge has nicely decorated stone arch rondavel with thatched roof. Along the seafront is an open air restaurant and separate bar. I am the only guest and it has been like this for some time. Partly due to corona. The design and decoration is very well thought out. Suggesting the hand of an experienced traveller. This appeared to be correct. The cook can make very tasty seafood meals.