Historic Sites at the Coast

45 Historic Sites at the Coast of Kenya

View of Mnarani Ruins in Kilifi County.  Photo Courtesy of PlanetWare
View of Mnarani Ruins in Kilifi County. Photo Courtesy of PlanetWare

Overview of the Historic Sites at the Coast

For the casual visitor, Fort Jesus, Gede Ruins, Jumba la Mtwana, Takwa Ruins and Siyu Fort are perhaps the most interesting and striking of the historic sites at the Coast Region of Kenya, yet, these are among the dozens of well-studied and accessible historic sites along the Coast.  Some of the historic sites found here are composed of the old settlement towns and outlying groups of tombs. It is awash with a collection of historic sites, found mainly along the coast, many of them on private lands; consisted of ancient mosques, ruins, palaces, houses, walls with gates and tombs. Owing to their isolation and overgrown vegetation, some are hard to reach. All historic sites found in Kenya are protected under Chapter 215 of the Laws of Kenya: The preservation of Objects of Archaeological and Palaeontological Interest Ordinance. This collates a list of those ruins and monuments listed as protected under the Subsidiary Legislation of Chapter 215, as revised in 1962, considering only historic sites in the Coast Region of Kenya.

The Ruins of Gede – Published by Jan van Bekkum

Forward: This list of Historic Sites at the Coast Region of Kenya contains excerpts from the in-depth research: “The Monumental Architecture and Archaelogy of the Central and Southern Coast” that was written by Thomas H. Wilson, Ph.D., in February, 1980.

Kwale County

At the moment, the beautiful beach at Diani has been the most successful at attracting travellers to Kwale, yet, there’s much more to the county than the miles of perfect beach. It’s awash with a collection of historic sites, found mainly along the coast, many of them on private lands; consisted of ancient mosques, ruins, palaces, houses, walls with gates and tombs. Owing to their isolation and overgrown vegetation, some of the ruins are complicated to locate.

Map of Historic Site along Kwale's Coastline.  Image Courtesy
Map of Historic Sites along Kwale’s Coastline. Image Courtesy

1. Vumba Kuu

The historic old site of Vumba Kuu is located near the Kenya-Tanzania border (Lunga-Lunga) nearby the Mchamalale (or Mchongo) Stream. The site itself is densely overgrown, although much of the area around is under cultivation. An erosion channel and tidal flats divide the site into two parts: a western section, a small part of which is in Tanzania, and a smaller eastern area where a mosque is located. Vumba Kuu, which literally means the capital of Vumba, dates to the 15th Century coinciding with the arrival of the Bani Nabhani from Pate and the rise of the Omani (Arab) Rule. “It is likely that the historic date from Pate was incorporated into the history of Vumba Kuu. Seven sultans followed the first man enthroned at Vumba Kuu, allegedly in 1201+, before the reign of a Kwana Chambi chardi Ivoo, whose presence seems to be confirmed about 1630 – 80’s.” The area suggested by the curve of the town wall might reach seven acres, but if the eastern side is included the total area might double that. House remains could not be seen” – Thomas H. Wilson. All that remains of the mosque are the broken walls of its southeastern section, including: a south wall, ruined to a low height; a cistern to the east of the musalla, although, no trace of an anteroom can be seen; a well south of the rear wall, with an adjacent cistern, smaller than the other. Traditionally Vumba Kuu was said to have been founded in 1201+, as the date for the arrival of the Nabhani at Pate, and for the founding of Tumbatu.

2. The Ruins at Vanga

18 kms south of Lunga Lunga Town sits Vanga, a small fishing-town of mostly mud and thatch houses arranged along a neat series of north-south streets. The town is at the water’s edge, with access to the sea through a broad channel that is flanked by mangroves. Vanga is the most southerly settlement in Kenya and contrary to expectation, this ways-out hamlets is a treasure trove of historical ruins. Small tombs are scattered throughout Vanga, one of these having a small pillar about 2 ms high, with the base of a 19th century European ceramic mug on top. According to a report by National Museums of Kenya “Vanga was only a small fishing village when Diwan Sheikh moved there from Wasini about 1821.” Some of the other elaborate ruins include those left over from the British epoch.

3. Kagugu

This is a site out in the mangroves located a few minutes walk out of Vanga. There, on a grassy rise above sea level, a little island about 200 metres long by about 100 metres wide, are found an isolated cistern and, somewhat farther north, a ruined mosque. At the cistern is a collection of umpteen 19th century ceramics. The mosque was at the north end of the grassy high ground, but the north end of the structure has been carried away by tidal action. “The hidden nature of this site suggests ‘Kagugu’ is located where it is for defensive reasons”.

4. Wasini Island

The 21 km2 – 7 kms long and 3 kms wide – Wasini Island orientated in an east-west strike sits just 900 ms south the Shimoni Penninsula. Shimoni boatyard is traditionally the jump-off to the island. The little town of Wasini located on the northwestern side of the island is its main landing. The Island has a population of about 4,000 of mainly three fishing communities – Wadigo, Washirazi and Wavumba – who coexists in this dreamy place where life has changed very little in the past decades. At Wasini Island there are five mosques, three of which are still in use, associated tombs and the ruins of a few stone houses. Prom west to east the mosques: Msikiti wa Mira Mwiyuni, Msikiti Mdogo, Msikiti wa Ijumaa, Msikiti wa Kale and Msikiti wa Mgodo. The western mosque, Msikiti wa Mira Mwiyuni, was said to have been built by one Mkulu wa Mwenyi Mkuu of the al-Ba Urii family; he is said to have come from Pate. At the southwest corner of the mosque are six tombs, said to be those of Mkulu wa Mwenyi Mkuu and his kin.

The eastern mosque, Ksikiti wa Kgodo, like Ksikiti wa Kira Mwiyuni, is said to have been built by Mkulu wa Mwenyi Mkuu. The other unused mosque at Wasini, Msikiti wa Kale, is now in ruins. It’s thought to have been built by the agent of Ahmed bin Muhammad, the Mazrui governor of Mombasa. Ksikiti wa Ijumaa was built by Diwan Hasan, the son of Diwan Ruga, and completed in 1161 or 1162. Near the seafront is the grave of Iaarus, who is reported to have been considered a wizard and at whose grave the Digo were said to pray for rain. He is remembered today as a religious man, and a leper, to whom people, mostly sailors, would go to ask him to pray for them or their problems. The grave has short pillars on the east and west ends, with central wall monuments on the side walls and step ends at the corners with conical finials on top on the east end and cylindrical finials on the west. Its facades are decorated with blue and white bowls and plates. There is a tombstone at the grave that’s dated 1279.

Behind Msikiti wa Ijumaa are 26 tombs. 13 are arranged in three groups and a single tomb is at the southeast corner of the mosque. 5 tombs, or rather four tombs and a grave, are within a high-walled compound with a southern arched doorway. Another group of about 4 tombs is within another compound adjacent to the southwest, the eastern access to which is now blocked by a tomb straddling the doorway. The last 4 tombs are to the south and east of the others, and are not surrounded by a compound wall. Thomas H. Wilson

5. Chambocha Cemetery, Wasini

On the south side of Wasini Island, near the hamlet of Nyuma ya Maji, is found the Chambocha Cemetery; the burial place of the people of Wasini. The reason the cemetery is located so far away from the village is simply because there is not an area without stony ground any closer. At the cemetery, there about 50 tombs in thick bush. The tombs are small, usually single. The facades often have windows or niches and sometimes had plaques as well as bowls and dishes. To boot, some gravestones had inscriptions, although they are now mostly illegible.

6. Pongwe

A few kilometres west of Kidimu are the ruins simply known as Pongwe. Its only remains are the ruins of a small mosque now located about 20 metres inside the high water line, at the edge of the mangroves. It measures about five metres long and four metres wide; although the masonry nowhere stands to above one metre in height, the structure was undoubtedly a mosque: traces of the mihrab can be seen on the north, and there was likely a cistern on the south.

7. Hurumuz1 (Hormuz)

The site of Hurumuzi, probably the old Hormuz (Ormuz), is located about 30 minutes’ walk west-south-west of Pongwe, through dense concentrations of mangroves. The site is on a little grassy knoll rising above the surrounding mangroves. Some scatters of local ceramics could be seen, and there were a few stones around that might have belonged once to structures. The main building is a small mosque of a single chamber, entered through a door on the south end of the east wall, and possibly through another in the south wall. The north, east and east half of the south walls stand; the west and west half of the southern walls have fallen. There is a single rectangular column in the centre of the room.

8. Shirazi

Shirazi, also known as Kifundi, is a pleasant little village at the edge of a sea channel about 3 kms from the highway. About 100 metres or less south of Shirazi village is a mosque and one or more tombs in dense bush. There are two wells, one south of the mosque that is still used by the people of the village, and an old well in the bush east of the mosque. The mosque is in extremely ruined condition, all walls and the qibla fallen except for a short portion of the north wall. On the outside it is seen that the north wall stands to a height of about two metres, demonstrating that the mosque is deep in rubble. The central musalla measures about 4-60 metres wide by 6.90 metres long. There is a niche on the east end of the north wall and a small window on the west end. The mihrab was framed by an architrave that on its lower faces was plain. There was probably a capital, below which the facade seems to have been plain. 200 metres north of Shirazi, about 150 metres from the high tide line sits a second mosque, in ruins.

9. Munge Ruins

The ruins at Munge consist of two mosques, one on a hill overlooking a little beach and the sea and the other about half a kilometre back from the sea in some shambas. The Munge mosque in the shambas is built upon a little hill and overlooks the surrounding land by a metre or two. The mosque consists of a central chamber, eastern and western flanking rooms, a southern chamber and an area delimited by a western peripheral wall. About 9 metres northwest of the mihrab is a well that does not appear to be used. Some sections of the mosque still stand, as does the mihrab, although this is tilting precariously to the north.

10. Gazi Ruins

Gazi was in the 19th Century the headquarters of Mbarak bin Rashid al Kazrui, whose palace with a carved wooden door may still be seen today. About 3 kms southeast of Gazi is a ruined mosque on the Khan farm. It appears to have been a three room type, with an eastern anteroom about 2.60 ms wide and a western room about 2.20 metres wide flanking the musalla, which measures 3-5 metres wide by 7.6 metres long. Enough low sections of the eastern wall of the musalla stand to indicate there were two doorways into the musalla. The western side is more crumbled although a section of the musalla wall may be seen at the south.

11. Galu Ruins

Galu ruins is a large walled compound similar in design to Tumbe, although it is located upon a hill rather than at the sea. It is a walled enclosure, approximately square, with western and eastern gatehouses. The western entry is in slightly better condition than the other but both structures reveal a two room ground plan. The former structure was two storied, as was probably the latter. Inside the compound is a well located about midway between the gatehouses; it is still in use. In the middle of the north and south walls were salient circular bastions with holes placed to allow enfilade fire across the northern and southern walls.

12. Ukunda Mosque

Ukunda Mosque, the remains of a single mosque may be found near the large baobab tree protected by presidential decree at Ukunda. It is a structure with eastern and probably western rooms flanking the musalla and with another room to the south. The musalla measures 5-20 metres wide by 8.95 metres long; the eastern room is about 2.10 metres wide. A section of the eastern wall survives and suggests that there were two eastern doorways opening into that chamber. At the northwest edge of the mosque is a tomb, just off the north wall.

13. Kongo Mosque

Also known as Tiwi Mosque, this 14th Century Arab Masjid originally known as Diani Persian Masjid, is thought to be one of the oldest in Eastern Africa. Most parts of its unusual copula or barrel vault have remained almost intact for many centuries. Remarkably, Kongo Mosque is still used day-to-day as a community Masjid. This ancient Masjid set next to the lovely Tiwi Beach and the scenically-splendid creek where enormous baobab trees stand sentinel, depicts the style of early Islamic Mosques. The flanking rooms were roofed with domes, and the three rear rooms were covered by four longitudinal barrel vaults. The doorways are simple archways, as in the mihrab, which opens without adornment from the wall plane into an unaecorated apse. This stark mihrab design was seen in the mosque by the sea at Munge and, in northern Lamu, in the mosque of the pillar at Shanga. “West of the mosque are walled courtyards, and to the north are five or more tombs, labelled A-E on the accompanying illustration. Tombs B, C, and D are interesting because they have basal curbs, but more particularly because they are rather large and are approximately square, or measure slightly longer on the east and west sides than on the north and south sides. Only tomb B was panelled, on the east side only, above which was a frieze of niches.” Tomb C might have been a step end tomb. It is located near Amani Tiwi Beach Resort.

14. Twiga Mosque

Not far northeast of the ruins of the “Mosque and houses of Kirima”, and only a few metres off the road between the highway and Twiga Lodge, is a small ruined mosque popular as the Twiga mosque. A part of the south wall stands but all other walls have fallen. A portion of the qibla survives under a tree, the roots of which twine throughout the masonry. Its facade has fallen, but there seem to have been several recessed orders under a capital. At the northeast corner of the masjid is a tomb with an arched window. It’s found 510 ms south of Tiwi Beach.

View of Kongo Mosque at Tiwi Beach.  Photo Courtesy
View of Kongo Mosque at Tiwi Beach. Photo Courtesy of Jumuiya News

Mombasa County

The ruins of Mombasa are of both Portuguese and Swahili origin. The popular Portuguese remains include Fort Jesus, overlooking the entrance to Mombasa Harbour; Fort St. Joseph, guarding the entrance to both harbours; redoubts threatening the approaches and the entrance to the Kilindini Harbour; and the sunken remains of a Portuguese warship, almost certainly the Santo Antonio de Tanna, a 2-gun frigate that was sunk before Fort Jesus during the siege of 1697.

Map of Coastline along Kwale and Mombasa Counties.  Image Courtesy
Map of Coastline along Kwale and Mombasa Counties. Image Courtesy

15. Fort Jesus

During the 16th Century the Swahili towns remained generally independent of Portugal’s control and under the government of their traditional Shirazi ruling families. However, due to Portugal’s disruptive commercial policy, the 16th Century was a period of decline. During the second half of the century a new oceanic power, Turkey, made two brief appearances on the Swahili Coast and succeeded in inciting local revolts against the Portuguese. After defeating the Turks, the Portuguese decided to consolidate their power in East Africa by keeping a permanent garrison in order to ensure continued control on their dominions. The construction of Fort Jesus of Mombasa began in 1593 to the designs of Jao Batista Cairato, an Italian architect in the employ of Portugal in India. This is a heavily fortified building with elaborate outworks, moats and salients to counter the effectiveness and accuracy of the new projectiles. The salients were so arranged that any bastion could come to the aid of the other by means of crossfire. Its plan consists of a central court, with bastions at corners. Gunports and turrets were placed to control entering ships, and the main street.

16. Santo Antonio de Tanna

Santo Antonio de Tanna was a Portuguese India fleet’s frigate that was sank on October 20, 1697, in front of Fort Jesus, after it came under unshakable attacks from the Omanis’ occupying it at the time. It was discovered in late 1960’s and subsequent excavation was carried out between 1976 to 1980 by a team of local divers and the Nautical Archaeology Society. More than 15,000 artefacts were recovered from the ‘trenches’, indexed, and displayed at Fort Jesus. It was one of the early maritime excavation done in Kenya and amongst the few successful nautical excavations in Africa. The Santo Antonio de Tanna Wreck, which was gazetted in 1977 as a national monument, is Kenya’s first-rate wreck diving site.

17. Smaller Ruins near Fort Jesus

The remains of interest of Swahili origin in Mombasa include the Mazrui Cemetery opposite Fort Jesus, the mosque ruins and graves (including Ahehe Mvita’s tomb) in the Alliaina Visram School, Mbaraki Pillar and the mosque ruins at the end of the new Nyali Bridge and at Balu’s Garage. Still to be seen on the grounds of Coast General Hospital are the ruined remains of a mosque, of which only the southern wall and the well located just behind the wall survive.

18. St. Joseph’s Fort

More impressive for its history rather the site itself, the decrepit St. Joseph’s Fort perched on the very edge of a coastal coral bluff within Mombasa Golf Club, along Mama Ngina Drive, is thought to predate Fort Jesus. It is thought to have been originally build by Ali Bey, the influential Turkish buccaneer, who arrived in Mombasa in the early 1500’s. He marshaled the Zimba Tribe to quell the early attempts by the Portuguese to rule Mombasa. Ali Bey built this Fort in 1550 alongside one at Ras Serani, to defend himself and his Turkish comrades. Later that year, the Portuguese arrived in force and effortlessly crushed Ali Bey. The Portuguese enlarged Ali Bey’s Fort and renamed it Fort St. Joseph. They also built a small chapel dubbed as Nossa Signora das Merces. A few yards from the Fort, they burrowed an underground passage which, as legend has it, runs to the central courtyard of Fort Jesus. The outlet, if one ever existed, has never been discovered. Although the fort is in a broken-down state of disrepair, this is undeniably an outstanding historic landmark of Mombasa. A trip here is easily combined with an outing at Mama Ngina Drive Park found 1 km down the road.

19. Mbaraki Pillar

The usual route from Mama Ngina Drive waterfront Park is through Nyerere Avenue, that commences at Likoni Ferry in the south area of Mombasa Island and terminates at Makupa Causeway in the northern tip of the Island. Shortly after leaving Mama Ngina Drive, one may be interested in exploring Mbaraka Pillar, 3 kms away, found in the the southwestern part of the Mombasa Island, at the entrance of Mbaraki Creek. Mbaraki Pillar is a 14 ms free-standing tower constructed around the 1400 AD, which appeared in ancient Portuguese maps as an ‘ancient pyramid’. Some argue that the Mbaraki Pillar dates to the late 17th Century, because it was illustrated on maps of 1728 but not those of 1636. West of this medieval obelisk is a close by mosque, build around 1890. The base of this tall monument, almost certainly a tomb, is square and hollow, with a low arched doorway, once recessed, in its north side. Above, the hollow tower rises to its great height. Rectangular slits ascend the tower in four uneven rows; close to the top there is an offset course, above which are four arched openings in line with the four rows of slits. Above these rise four inward curving stone supports that uphold three stepped squares of masonry. At the summit is a round-topped finial. It is located in the area generally known as Kilindini; east of Likoni Ferry.

St. Joseph's Fort along Mama Ngina Street.  Courtesy of The Star
St. Joseph’s Fort along Mama Ngina Street. Courtesy of The Star

Kilifi County

If one is interested in exploring the compelling history of the Coast Region of Kenya, few destinations can better the enriching experience of Kilifi County.  Its charm in beauty and extent of historic sites has attracted the attention of many adventure-makers. Along the coast of Kilifi, ecclesiastical ruins are frequently to be seen, dating back in some cases to the early 9th Century.  Jumba la Mtwama, found just a few kilometres north of the city of Mombasa, is a perfect example. The famous Gede Ruins which are just off the main Mombasa-Malindi Road, near Watamu, and which can be visited within a day from Mombasa or Malindi, are perhaps the most interesting of these reminders of the Arabic influence on the Coast. At Gede Ruins, there are extensive ruins of palaces, a walled ancient town, numerous tombs, and several important remains of large heroic mosques.

Map of Coastline along Kilifi Counties.  Image Courtesy
Map of Lower Coastline along Kilifi Counties. Image Courtesy

20. Mtwapa Ruins

Mtwapa Ruins is a large site on the north side of Mtwapa Creek, in thick bush, with many walls of about 60 houses still standing, stretching several hundred metres north to south; but the breadth of the site is continually reduced by the construction of houses overlooking the creek and the ocean. It is not difficult to imagine that Mtwapa was once considerably larger than its present size. Cut coral was used for the edges of doorways and decorative pilasters. A town wall surrounded the site and may be seen today as a high mound of earth extending across roads and through the bush. There was apparently one congregatioral mosque at Mtwapa, still seen at the site. “The Mtwapa Ruins is a site of great archaeological potential, for settlement pattern studies, survey and mapping, architectural study and excavation. Few other sites could rival it in quantity and quality of its standing remains. It would have had much more potential for development as a national monument if its access to the sea and Mtwapa Creek had not been cut off by new houses, which must have greatly damaged the site”.

21. Jumba la Mtwana

Eke-named “the house of many doors” or “the slavemaster’s house”, Jumba la Mtwana is perhaps the most pronounced structure along the Coast Region of Kenya, and among the best preserved ancient ruins. It consists of four mosques and a number of houses located in a picturesque setting on and above the beach not far north of the mouth of Mtwapa Creek; or again: “Jumba la Mtwana has four mosques, a tomb and four houses that survived in recognizable condition. These houses include the House of the Cylinder, The House of the Kitchen, The House of the Many Pools and the Great Mosque; all part of its three phases. The inhabitants of this centre were mainly Muslims as evidenced by its numbers of ruined mosques”. The site was investigated in depth by James Kirkman in 1972, who cleared some of the houses and at least one of the mosques. He dates the site to the late 11th Century early 15th Century. One of the mosques of Jumba la Mtwana, cleared and planned by Kirkman (1972) is aptly known as the Great Mosque or the Mosque by the Sea. There is a second mosque near the centre of the site, a small mosque at the far western end, and the fourth mosque, or the domed mosque, is found some metres north of the cleared areas of the National Monument. North of this mosque is a cemetery, with several tomb enclosures abutting the little coral cliff to the west. The style of architecture seen at Jumba la Mtwana is comparable to the style of ancient ruins found at the Songo-Mnara Region, of Tanzania’s Coast. The ruins are found 16 kms north of Mombasa, off Mombasa-Malindi-Lamu Road for 4 kms to the northern end of Mtwapa Creek.

22. Vipingo Mosque

The Vipingo mosque is located on the beach about 14 kms north of Mtwapa and 3 kms southeast of Kijepwa Police Station. The qibla and west side of the north wall stand, and some of the western walls may be traced, but the eastern side of the mosque has been eroded by the sea. There’s little evidence that remains of what was possibly a wall. The roofing of the mosque supports a more narrow musalla, and to the west of the scar the top of the wall falls with a sharp pitch. This pitch continues down to the north arched doorway of the western room, and probably indicates the roof was of makuti. The wall height of the western room appears to have been no higher than the spring line of the archway; the area thus probably functioned as an open verandah. The mihrab is framed in a plain architrave, with plain jambs below offset capitals of two narrow members.

23. Kinuni Ruins

Kinuni is a small site of one mosque and a group of tombs located on a beautiful beach just north of a coral outcrop at the end of a well-kept access road in the Kuruwitu Conservancy. Portions of the site were excavated and reported on by James Kirkman in 1975. Only the western anteroom of the mosque stands, the northern part to full height. The surviving northwest doorway of the musalla is a simple archway with edges of coral. The western doorways of the anteroom were squared. There might have been a western verandah. The mihrab and the eastern areas of the mosque are completely destroyed. Of the tombs at Kinuni labelled A to E by Kirkman, ‘A’ is the largest of the tombs over 17 metres in area.

24. Kitoka Ruins

Kitoka, on the north bank of Takaungu Creek, along with Mnarani on the south bank of Kilifi Creek and Kilifi Ruins on the north bank, were the settlements of the old “city state” of Kilifi – Kirkman 1959. Kitoka is a site of two mosques and numerous houses, today covering an area of about six acres, although it is likely that in the past the site was considerably larger. Plans of the two mosques and elevations of their mihrabs were first cited by Garlake, in 1956. The mihrab of the large mosque is still in good condition, with two arch orders above and two recessed jambs below single member capitals. Some of the more interesting features or characteristics of the houses at Kitoka include the doorways in the houses framed by architraves, often with single niches in each of the pilasters. Also, the archways at Kitoka themselves were often once or twice recessed from spandrel level, either including the jambs or above the level of “springing” only.

25. Mnarani Ruins

Among the plentiful ruins of ancient Swahili towns along the Coast of Kenya is Mnarani, which was occupied in the 14th Century. It serves as a great example of the ancient civilization that thrived here for hundreds of years.  To start with, there is a magnificent pillar tomb with a Friday Masjid (Mosque) and 12 tombs labelled from A to L, still in good condition. Then, there are the captivating fine carvings at its large pillar tomb, which is marked by layered arcs on the mihrab with stellar coral inscriptions still in immaculate condition. It has slave tunnels too.  The ancient Mnarani Ruins are located at south bank of Kilifi Creek, about 55 kms north of Mombasa City, and just 200 ms off Mombasa to Malindi Road.

26. Uyombo Ruins

Uyombo is located a bit inland from the south side of Mida Creek. The site is a very ruined mosque in the bush, its mihrab fallen. The only thing of interest is a long conduit, about a metre high, running from a well that is still in use to a cistern that was located at the southeast corner of the mosque. Another cistern and wall close by were from a ruined house. Uyombo Ruins are probably recent.

27. Kilepwa Ruins

Kilepwa is a site on an island in Mida Creek, consisting of a mosque, some tombs and some houses. The site was investigated by Kirkman who, on the basis of local and imported ceramics and porcelains, divided the site into three periods of seven phases, dating from the last half of the 12th Century through the second quarter of the 17th Century. The earliest permanent structure that has survived is the pillar tomb, probably dating to around the middle of the 14th century. This interesting structure has two large single recessed panels on the east facade of the wall. Coral panels composed of three ascending coral tiles alternating with adjacent areas of rough coral masonry today give a pleasing chequered effect to the pillar. “Although Kilepwa continued to be occupied throughout the 16th Century, the scarcity of late Ming sherds would appear to indicate that the population of the area was smaller or poorer” – T. H. Wilson.

28. Mgangani

Mgangani is the site of a mosque southwest of Gedi, near the upper reaches of Mida Creek associated with Somali mosques of the 18th Century. A few piles of rubble nearby suggest that there might have been a few stone houses other than the mosque, but the ‘outpost’, if there were stone houses, must have been small.

29. Kiburugeni

At the southwest end of Blue Lagoon, near Watamu, are a mosque and two tombs named for the area, Kiburugeni. The mihrab has a plain architrave, with two arch orders within the spandrels. At the apex of the arches is the small terminal coast nick. All walls except the qibla have fallen. At the northeast corner abutting the mosque is a large tombstone tomb, with three single recessed panels below a frieze of niches. This is flanked by masonry piers ending in square pyramids. In the facade of the tombstone are recesses for three bowls or dishes; it is almost certain that about half a dozen 11th Century Chinese blue and white porcelain sherds now in the Gede Museum came from this tomb. As the mosque predates the tomb, a late 11th or early 15th century date for the mosque seems appropriate. Behind the large tomb is a smaller one.

30. Gede Ruins

This is found at the corner of Mombasa-Malindi Road and Gede-Watamu Road, 16 kms before arriving at Malindi. Typical of most ancient towns along the East African Coast, the 12th-16th Century Gede Ruins are a relic of the ancient Arab towns. “Gede traces its origin in the 12th Century but was rebuilt with new walls in the 15th and 16th Centuries”. The entire site is estimated to cover 45-acres in the primeval forest at the edge of Arabuko-Sokoke. Gede Ruins are one of three most important historic locations along Kenya’s coast, owing to the quality and quantity of its remains. It was also the first intensively studied site. Work began in 1948, led by James Kirkman, concentrated in the north-central part of the area. Its prime area is comprised of a conglomeration of mosques, palaces and houses, with one of its most imposing structures being the Great Mosque. This as it stands is the youngest of 3 mosques. The first, about which little is known, was built in the mid 15th Century; then, half a century later, a similar Mosque to the present one was built. The latter dates to the mid 16th century. It a large mosque with three rows of six square pillars is further divided in two by a wall.

There are six minor mosques at Gede: the Mosque of the Long Conduit, the Mosque of the Three Aisles, the Small Mosque, the Mosque of the Sarcophagi, the Mosque Between the Walls, and the Mosque on the South Wall. All of the mosques had a single central row of one, two or perhaps three pillars, except the Mosque of the Three Aisles, where two rows of pillars left an unobstructed view of the mihrab. All of the mosques had eastern ablution facilities, again with the probable exception of the Mosque of the Three Aisles, where these seem to have been on the west. The units combined to make up the Gede houses are: forecourts and domestic courts; long rooms, usually spanning the width of the house; small rooms, based on the division of a long room; store rooms, usually at the rear of the house or at the end of a suite of small rooms; toilets of the typical coast type; lobbies and entryways, essentially small rooms for the passage from one area to another; and passageways, usually long / corridors from a street to the entrance of the house. According to historians, Gede was partly wiped off (in 1528) by troopers from Mombasa opposing the Portuguese.

3D Animation of the Swahili Town in Gede Published by Zamani Project

31. Portuguese Chapel

The Portuguese interest in East Africa stretches back to the late 14th Century, with aims of establishing a trading empire and to outflank Islam commercially, politically, militarily, and religiously. The decision to conquer East Africa was taken by the Portuguese after Vasco da Gama’s return to Portugal in 1499, from an exploratory voyage of East Africa in 1499 on which he forged friendly bonds with Malindi. Build around 1500 and enlisted in 1935 as a national monument, the tiny Portuguese Chapel, 550 ms south of Malindi Museum along Silversand Road (also known as Mama Ngina) is arguably the foremost Church of Kenya. Outstandingly, it’s still in use.  One of its momentous milestones happened in 1542, when on his voyage to India Saint Francis Xavier S.J., one of the greatest missionaries since St. Paul, visited the antiqued Portuguese Chapel.  There are two outlying graves found close to the Chapel where Saint Francis buried two of his sailors before embarking on his journey to India. After the Portuguese left Malindi in November 1698, it was deserted, until the British arrived in 1893. While the Portuguese had garnered some success with trade, they did not fair well with spreading Christianity in East Africa. They had won some converts in Malindi and some in Mombasa but their endeavor had no permanent success.

32. Vasco da Gama Cross

This is found 400 ms south of the Portuguese Chapel, standing stentinel at the edge of a peninsula almost 520 years since it was set up here. Looking out to the infinite ocean horizon, Vasco da Gama Cross connects trippers to a far-removed history of the 1490’s. In January 1498, Vasco da Gama’s exploratory voyage had reached the island and town of Mozambique, now under the influence of Kilwa, before arriving to a very hostile welcome in Mombasa, and more significantly to a friendly one at Malindi – the arch-rival of Mombasa. Soon after his arrival at Mombasa, Vasco da Gama set off for the coastal town of Malindi (or Melinda, as he liked to call it) that would later become the seat of the viceroy in East Africa. The welcome and proceedings in Malindi had been cordial and before departing for India he erected the infamous stone pillar cross as was customary, as a sign of amicable relationship. Some say, Vasco da Gama Cross depicts a trimmed down version of a ship, while others have suggested it resembles a giant sword. Either way, it is a deeply moving monument that memorializes the Portuguese conquest of East Africa, and one of the most captivating chapters in its history.

This monument was brought by Da Gama from Portugal and set up in Malindi; possibly it was moved to its present location, at the end of a coral projection into the sea south of the town, a few years later. Today the cross is seen as a large monument with the small cross atop a large, flat-topped cone of masonry built on a circular pedestal. T.H

33. Jemadari Mosque

Although Malindi is one of the most historic old towns on the coast of Kenya, few monumental antiquities survive in the area. Those that survived include, from south to north: a south mosque, the Da Gama Cross, parts of a Portuguese Chapel, the famous pillar tombs and the Jemadari Mosque. The Jemadari Mosque is on the north side of Malindi, near the sea and Malindi Golf and Country Club. The mihrab design is interesting for its highly stilted multiple arch orders; its panelled jamb blocks, decorated with cable pattern mouldings. Although the east side of the mosque is buried and the south side has fallen, the plan of the mosque was probably the six room type: musalla flanked on each side by anterooms behind which, on the south edge, were three smaller rooms.

34. Mambrui

The most interesting of the Mambrui tombs was studied by Kirkman, in 1950, is a large tomb with a decagonal pillar about 1.6 metres wide and 5.5 metres high. In a frieze around the top of the shaft wore set ten late King blue and white porcelain bowls and plates, one alternating with the other, of late 16th Century. Adjoining this tomb on the north is a compound with a large tombstone on its east wall and, like the enclosure of the pillar tomb, with a doorway in its west walls Nearby is another tombstone tomb, which once had a circular coral boss set in the centre of the tombstone; although the stump of this boss remains. The old Mambrui Mosque is located on some high ground just above the beach, east of the cemetery. Leading from the musalla out to the west was a single square headed doorway, while in the north end of the west wall was a niche or window.

35. Kibirikani Ruins

In the style of the Kongo Mosque and the Munge mosque by the sea, this located at the rear of Sheshale Bay-about 3 kms north of Mambrui, at a point where a channel sometimes washes water into the sea but at high water is itself filled part way up stream by the sea. The site of one Mosque, Kibirikani is located several tens of metres from the beach, in dense bush on the south side of the channel. The mihrab and a few walls on the southwest side stand, including a small cistern, from which perhaps the site takes its name (Birikani).

Map of Upper Coastline along Kilifi Counties.  Image Courtesy
Map of Upper Coastline along Kilifi Counties. Image Courtesy

Lamu County

Lamu Town is mentioned by the Portuguese in 1506 when Tristao da Cunha blockaded it and imposed a tribute which was paid without resistance. In 1585 the Turkish captain Mir Ali Bay visited the town and took an ex-Portuguese captain prisoner. The town was later punished twice for this, once in 1589 and again in 1678; in each case the town’s ruler was executed by the Portuguese in Pate. After 1813, when Lamu became a protectorate of Oman, the town was administered by local liwali (viceroys), answerable to the Omani sultans ruling first from Muscat and, after 1840, from Zanzibar. After 1895 the liwalis of Lamu were linked to the British colonial administration through the liwali of the coast sitting in Mombasa. Between 1813 and 1963 Lamu had 24 liwalis; the last, Aziz bin Rashid, took over office in 1948 and continued until independence in 1963.

Friday Mosque in Shela Village near Lamu.  Photo Courtesy of Rupi Mangat
Friday Mosque in Shela Village near Lamu. Photo Courtesy of Rupi Mangat

36. Matondoni Ruins

At Matondoni are three mosques, all of which are still in use. At the north end of the Riyadha (or Friday) Mosque is a tomb which had a 1 ms wide octagonal pillar, a section of which can still be seen on the ground northeast of the tomb. In front of this tomb is another, interesting for the roof of makuti that covers the tomb, resting on the top of the five-riser step ends. About 80 metres south of the mosque is a small tomb with four-riser step ends; on the east wall was a small tombstone, with an inscription too eroded to read. West of the mosque is a recent stone tomb with four piers on each of the side walls and a high central pier on the east and west walls, the purpose of which is to support a makuti roof over the structure. There is a wooden door in the east wall. It was built by the grandson of the deceased, on the mother’s side, and is the object of visitation for prayers. West of the lisikiti va Kuru is a group of five old tombs and a more recent grave. Near the sea is a ruined house with two central and two chambers.

37. Kipungani Ruins

At Kipungani, on the southwest side of Lamu Island, are a ruined mosque, some tombs, and scatters of pottery. The mosque stands to its full height, though in bush; it was probably a three-aisle “southern” type. The mihrab was wide and deep, and appears to have been removed from the mosque. At the south end of the mosque was the cistern for ablutions, fed from a five-sided well southeast of the mosque. There are two tombs at the edge of the sea at Kipungani, of which one is a large square tomb with probably seven-riser step ends. The seaward side of this tomb has collapsed, and only the northeastern corner of a tomb that once abutted it to the south still remains. Kipungani is also home to Kipungani Explorer, a secluded ocean-facing which contains 13 spacious bandas that sit at one end of Kipungani Bay. “The bandas are built entirely from local materials, with mkeka palm floors and makuti thatch roofs woven by the natives of nearby village”, from where guests can enjoy its palm lined shaded 600-ms beachfront.

38. Takwa Ruins

At the southeastern edge of Manda Island, 2 kms east of the Maljis Hotel, on a low hill, sit the famous Takwa Ruins, which, according to J. Kirkman who first excavated the site, belong to the 16th and 17th Centuries. As with many adage towns along the Swahili Coast Takwa was deserted mysteriously in the 17th Century, presumably for the lack of fresh water. The Pate chronicles claim that the towns at Manda Island succumbed to the power of Pate and a section of the inhabitants escaped across the creek to Lamu Island. The story is continued in the Lamu chronicle which says that although the people of Lamu were prepared to give them shelter they did not, however, permit them to build their houses of stone. Takwa Ruins have the remains of a large mosque; above its mihrab is a pillar. The feature appears once more in the 15 Century domed mosque of Kilwa where the stone pillar is fluted. There are remains of a second town just east of Takwa. The center of interest at Takwa is the stone column about 2.5 ms high at its northern end. There are didactic panels at the site providing plenty of useful information for trippers to the ruins, courtesy of National Museums of Kenya. Takwa Ruins are approached from the mainland (Shela or Lamu) via a narrow mangrove fringed channel into Manda Island. Allow yourself at least two hours to get to the ruins, although many a travel writer insist the boat tour and walk takes an hour. Once at the jetty, there is raised a boardwalk leading to the ruins.

39. Nabahani Ruins

Part of the astounding ruins found around Pate Town, some thought to date back to as early as the 9th Century, are the crumbling Nabahani Ruins; which later merged with its early town buildings. Nabahani were a group of ousted prominent Arabs who settled into the existing settlement at Pate Island some time in the 9th Century. Also prominent on Pate Island are its ruins of the old Swahili towns of Shanga and Faza and the great Siyu Fort. At her prime, Pate was a prominent trade post which dominated most trade in Lamu. During the 17th Century Portugal succeeded in asserting its ascendency over the larger stretch of the coast. Portuguese garrisons occupied several points at the Coast, and kept a customs house in Pate. Later that century, Portugal’s position in the Indian Ocean was deteriorating in the face of intense competition from Dutch and English. Swahili dissent was led by Pate, aided by the Omani, rose against the Portuguese five times during the 17th Century. Portugal’s end came with the capture of Fort Jesus by the Omani Arabs in 1669, after a siege of thirty months.

40. Siyu Fort

This is located about 5 kms east of Pate Town, just south of Faza and north of Shanga. The small settlement of Siyu is best known for the remains of Siyu Fort; an antique mid-19th Century fort. Oral traditions suggest that it was built by Siyu’s eminent leader Mohammed Ishaq bin Mbarak (or Bwana Mataka) “who also rebuilt much of the town including a fine stone mansion for himself, of which the remains are still to be seen”. Within the fort is a Friday Mosque with an elegant minbar or lectern dated to about 1521 AD. Siyu is also famous for fine skills in furniture-making and leather-crafting. As this may suggest, Siyu’s prosperity continued much longer than that of Pate, and unlike many other ecclesiastical relic forts at Lamu, Siyu Fort is unique because it was built to protect the town from the advancing Omani Arabs domination. Siyu is the only town that built a fort of its own, unlike Mombasa and Lamu where the forts were put up by foreigners. One of the endearing features of Siyu Fort, on one of the towers, is a carronade still in its original position and still with remains of its wooden carriage around it. Siyu Fort was gazetted as a National Monument in 1958. It’s reached either by boat up Takwa creek and then by foot to Siyu, or by rounding Manda Island by boat to Shanga and a short walk north.

41. Shanga Ruins

Also conspicuous among the relics of Lamu are the 8th Century Shanga Ruins named after the Washanga, or the people of Shanga, a clan who still live in the nearby Swahili town of Siyu. Located at the southeast area of Pate Island, south of Siyu, Shanga contains coral walls, two palaces, three mosques and a cemetery outside the wall with hundreds of tombs. All in all, the site is thought to contain the ruins or foundations of about 130 houses and 300 tombs, well hidden by the overgrown shrubbery.  It was excavated over eight years, starting in 1980. The earliest settlement was dated to the 8th century, and the conclusion drawn from the evidence (locally minted coins and burial sites) indicate that a small number of local inhabitants were Muslim, probably from the late 8th Century onwards, and at least from the early 9th Century. The excavations also reveal a key break in the development of Shanga in the mid-late 11th Century, with the destruction and rebuilding of the Friday Mosque. Due to over abstraction of ground water, sea water seeped in and the village was no longer habitable. A rarely roved site, Shanga Ruins are one of the oldest recorded along the Coast of Kenya. So much so, that it was a thriving trading post 400 years before Mombasa was founded, and was also thriving 100 years prior to Lamu’s accent as a major hub. Dating of Shanga Ruins was based on quantities of ceramic artefacts collected in 1980s.

42. Atu Ruins

Atu Ruins are located about half way between Siyu and Chundwa, but off the main trail to the east, almost at the edge (within about 100 metres) of the high water and mangrove line. At Atu are a mosque and an interesting grouping of tombs. The mosque had two rows of two piers, creating three aisles, with the ablution chamber to the south. The mihrab is curiously recessed into the walls, ana the apse is squared; next to the mihrab was a stepped masonry minbar. The musalla was entered through a single doorway in the east wall, or through the southern room; the western wall has fallen. About 150 metres or less south of the mosque are the tombs, labelled from the easternmost, set within thick bush.

43. Chundwa Ruins

The little-known Chundwa (or Tundwa) Mosque is located a little way out of the village on the Faza trail. It’s intriguing for its 18 shallow and narrow arch orders and recesses of over 50 bowls in the north wall. In the town is Chunawa pillar, a round tapering column about four metres high – A bench or base at the bottom has a diameter of 1.7 metres, while the base of the main body of the pillar is 1.1 metre across. Three masonry shafts with open spaces between them hold the top section above the body of the pillar, and on top is a conical finial. Just at the edge of the town along Faza trail, is a cemetery with step end tombs, some with long east facades. East of town on the Kizingitini trail are a mosque and tombs.

44. Ashuwei Ruins

On the mainland north of Kiwayu Island the first historic site is Ashuwei – a settlement just recently abandoned, probably in the 1960’s. The single mosque is broken down except for the north wall, which contained a very plain mihrab, perhaps simply a plain round arch, without apparent cut coral. East of the apse is a minbar of four steps. The second site is known as Mvindeni and Ras Uwani used to refer to the pillar tomb and town ruins at the north end of the little bay.

45. Ishakani Ruins

The entrance to Kenya in the immediate vicinity of Somalia (and Ras Kamboni) is marked by two tombs with high pillars whose site may have once been a pre-Islamic market, possibly one of the emporia mentioned in the Periplus. It is also believed to be the legendary Shvpigwaya of African tradition, claimed by Kitab-ul-Zunuj to have been the dispersal point for a large number of African tribes during the 12th or 13th Centuries. 10 kms to the south of Ras Kamboni are the remains of the walled town of Ishakani, with a similar tomb. South of Ishakani is a large striking rectangular panelled tomb over 1.2 ms high covering an area of about 80 m2. Three of its walls are decorated with asymmetrical, apparently abstract motifs in low relief; that do not appear to be Islamic. 16 kms further south are the ruin of a mosque belonging to the site of a settlement on Kiunga Island, opposite where there is an old tomb with a pillar in a bad state of repair.