Africa is a large continent, not everyone was living in mud huts; past & present.
The remains of two great East African ports admired by early European explorers are situated on two small islands near the coast. From the 13th to the 16th century, the merchants of Kilwa dealt in gold, silver, pearls, perfumes, Arabian crockery, Persian earthenware and Chinese porcelain; much of the trade in the Indian Ocean thus passed through their hands.
Located on two islands close to each other just off the Tanzanian coast about 300km south of Dar es Salaam are the remains of two port cites, Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara. The larger, Kilwa Kisiwani, was occupied from the 9th to the 19th century and reached its peak of prosperity in the13th and 14th centuries. In 1331-1332, the great traveler, Ibn Battouta made a stop here and
described Kilwa as one of the most beautiful cities of the world.
Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara were Swahili trading cities and their prosperity was based on control of Indian Ocean trade with Arabia, India and China, particularly between the 13th and 16th centuries, when gold and ivory from the hinterland was traded for silver, carnelians, perfumes, Persian faience and Chinese porcelain.
Kilwa Kisiwani minted its own currency in the 11th to 14th centuries. In the 16th century, the Portuguese established a fort on Kilwa Kisiwani and the decline of the two islands began.
Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara provide exceptional architectural, archaeological and documentary evidence for the growth of Swahili culture and commerce along the East African coast from the 9th to the 19th centuries, offering important insights regarding economic, social and political dynamics in this region.
The property is subject to invasion by vegetation and inundation by the sea, and vulnerable to encroachment by new buildings and agriculture activities that threaten the buried archaeological resources. The continued deterioration and decay of the property leading to collapse of the historical and archeological structures for which the property was inscribed, resulted in the property being placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2004.
The ability of the islands to continue to express truthfully their values has been maintained in terms of design and materials due to limited consolidation of the structures using coral stone and other appropriate materials, but is vulnerable, particularly on Kilwa Kisiwani to urban encroachment and coastal damage as these threaten the ability to understand the overall layout of the mediaeval port city.
The ability of the sites to retain their authenticity depends on implementation of an ongoing conservation programme that addresses all the corrective measures necessary to achieve removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The ceramics and small objects gathered during the excavations bear exceptional testimony to the commercial, and consequently cultural, exchanges of which Kilwa, and to a lesser extent, Songo were the theatre. Cowrie shells and beads of glass, carnelian or quartz were mixed with porcelain of the Sung dynasty as a medium of exchange from the 12th century. Chinese porcelain and Islamic monochrome faience continued to be the vectors of a bartering system well after the appearance of a monetary atelier at Kilwa.
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