Traveller Ibn Battuta's Journey to Kilwa Kisiwani

Travel back to Kilwa in 1332


Quiloa bird's-eye view of the city of Kilwa, Tanzania (1572) by Georg BraunCyArk

Who was Ibn Battuta?

Ibn Battuta was a Moroccan traveller who saw the great city at its most powerful. Writing in 1332, Battuta noted that "The city of Kilwa is amongst the most beautiful of cities and elegantly built."

Battuta travelled around Kilwa at a time when it was a southern gateway to central East Africa and vast riches, including timber, gold, and ivory flowed through its ports to cities across the Indian Ocean.  

Map of Kilwa Kisiwani from 1638 (need rights)CyArk

Around this time, between the 11th and 15th centuries, the city became so important and powerful that they began minting their own coinage, examples of which have been found as far away as Oman on the Arabian Peninsula and the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe.

Exterior of the Great Mosque in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

Ibn spent some time at Kilwa, and prayed with its sultan Abu al-Muzaffar Hasan in the Great Mosque.

This impressive structure remains the oldest standing mosque on the East African Coast and bears testimony to the islamification of East Africa around the 10th century. 

Underneath the Domes of the Great Mosque in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

It is one of many mosques on the site and these places remain just as important today as when Battuta visited, especially for the local community who live and work among the ruins.

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Credits: Story

Dr William Megarry, ICOMOS, and Lecturer in Archaeology, School of Natural and Built Environment, Queen’s University Belfast.  

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