What being a World Heritage Site means for Kilwa Kisiwani

Acknowledging the importance of the site

By CyArk

The Historical Gereza Fort of Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

Becoming a World Heritage Site

The importance of Kilwa Kisiwani cannot be understated and in 1981 it, along with the neighbouring island of Songo Mnara, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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

Acknowledges the integrity of the ruins

This designation acknowledges the outstanding universal value of the site and reflects the integrity and authenticity of the ancient ruins, which bear exceptional testimony to the growth of Swahili culture and commerce along the East African coast between the 9th to the 19th centuries. 

Working on a Boat in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

Positive economic benefits

Inscription on the World Heritage List can also have positive economic benefits for countries and local communities; however, these benefits rely on the ongoing protection and management of the properties. 

Taking photographs of Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

This list contains World heritage sites which require considerable assistance to meet a range of challenges including war and conflict, climate change and over-tourism.

Kilwa - mangrove depletionCyArk

Become a World Heritage Site in Danger

Unfortunately, ongoing preservation issues including erosion due to sea-level rise and local land-use practices including the removal of mangrove forests along the coast and the quarrying of coral for local building led to a deterioration of the site, and in 2004 it was placed on the World Heritage in Danger list.

Mangrove treesCyArk

This resulted in a global response from national and international agencies and countries including Japan, France, USA and Norway, included the construction of walls along the beach to protect monuments and the replanting of mangroves along the coast which act as a natural barrier to wave action. 

Documentation with Locals in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

Igniting local response

The local community were, and remain, central to this response and in 2014 the site was removed from the list of sites in danger.

Sitting with locals outside Gereza Fort in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

The significance of sites like Kilwa Kisiwani is not limited to the past. Many are part of living landscapes where people live and go about their daily lives.

Mercy Mbogellah - KilwaCyArk

These communities are often the true custodians of these special places.

Ships in Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

Protecting the social and economic benefits

At Kilwa, locals still moor their boats and fish in the harbour while others rely on the revenue tourism brings to the community. Preserving the site is not just about protecting walls and buildings; it is about protecting a resource of considerable social and economic benefit to the local population. 

By Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

“This town of Kilwa is growing because of these mangroves, and if the climate change continues, and these mangroves become no more there will be a bad effect...

Crowds on the Coast of Kilwa Kisiwani (2018-12) by CyArkCyArk

"...People may have to move or find other means or other islands to live...Even the district itself is depending on this island for its survival"  - Massud Issa Bedi

Discover more

Discover how CyArk uses 3D documentation to empower local experts.

Find out more about ICOMOS' efforts to increase engagement of cultural heritage in climate action here.

Credits: Story

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

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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