This abandoned East African city once controlled the medieval gold trade

A product of African, Arabian, and Persian cultures, Kilwa was an economic powerhouse that oversaw the flow of gold from its place on the Swahili Coast.

The ruins of the Husuni Kubwa, the palace-fort of Kilwa, Tanzania, overlook the Indian Ocean. The 14th-century sultan’s residence boasted more than a hundred rooms.
ALAMY/ACI

Spectacular ruins cluster on the island of Kilwa Kisiwani, more than a mile from the coast of modern-day Tanzania. The remnants of a palace and a great mosque, built partly of coral stone, are reminders of the time when the gold trade of east Africa flowed through this tiny island.

During its medieval heyday, Kilwa was the principal port in a string of coastal trading cities that formed along what became known as the Swahili Coast. Swahili is derived from an Arabic word meaning “coastal dweller” and became the name for the regional language.

The local inhabitants, descendants of the Bantu people, blended their mother tongue with adopted words from Persian and Arabic. Arabian and Persian customs are also reflected in the architecture, art, and religion of Swahili culture. All bear strong imprints of the intermingling elements among these peoples.

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