The name Kilwa is today used for three towns: Kiswani, Kilwa Kivinje and Kilwa Masoko. The ancient ruins are found mainly in Kilwa Kiswani (located on the island), whilst Kivinje and Masoko are both later towns on the mainland.
Some of wealth of Kilwa came from the trade in ivory and other slaves, but the most important commodity was gold. Gold was mined near city of Zimbabwe and taken to Sofala (known as Beira today). From here it was shipped up the coast via Kilwa . There was also an overland route from Kilwa to Lake Nyasa and the Zambezi River but this was less important. In the thirteenth century the sultans of Kilwa gained control of Sofala.
Kilwa had its own mint and was the only city in sub-Saharan Africa to issue coins. In 1332 Kilwa was visited by Ibn Battuta who deemed it 'a beautiful and well constructed town'. The fabled wealth of Kilwa was mentioned by Milton in 'Paradise Lost' where it is named 'Quiloa'.
Kilwa today is most famous for its spectacular ruins. The extensive palaces, mosques, fort and settlements at Kilwa Kiswani and Songo Mnara island are being restored by the French and are by far the best preserved relics of the pre colonial era in Tanzania.
Kilwa is also well known for its beautiful beaches and relaxing ambiance. A stay here can involve as much or as little activity as you like, with canoe or dhow safaris, crocodile, hippo and birdwatching expeditions, archaeological explorations, or simply relaxing with a drink on the white sandy beaches.
Wild Things organizes dhow trips to the islands to see the Kilwa Kiswani and Songo Mnara ruins, with additional options of exploring the mangrove swamps for crocodiles, hippos and deep sea fishing. Kilwa Ruins Fishing Lodge has several large fishing boats for the keen fisherman.
Kilwa Locations view all
Kilwa Kiswani translates literally as "Kilwa on the Island". It lies across a 2km wide channel from Kilwa Masoko, the main town, and is accessible by dhow from the mainland. The island is famous for its historical ruins, in remarkably good condition and dating back to as early as the 11th century.
Kilwa Kivinje lies about 30k north of Kilwa Masoko and is a sleepy attractive town with a fascinating history.
Kilwa Masoko is the present-day town centre and literally translated means "Kilwa of the market". It lies on a peninsula and is the local area's administrative and commercial centre. Having said that the town retains a sleepy, friendly atmosphere and the local people are extremely welcoming. Dhow trips run from here to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Kilwa Kiswani
Songo Mnara Island lies approximately 10km to the south of Kilwa Kiswani and is the location of a ruined city about which very little is known. The ruins are in places exceptional, particularly the Sultan's palace which is extensive and displays fine examples of ancient doorways. The ruins on Songo Mnara date to at least the fifteenth century or earlier, and these older ruins were reoccupied by the Omani settlers in the eighteenth century.