Kilwa was once a powerful trading center along the coast of East Africa; at its zenith, it controlled all trading activities between the African hinterland, Arabia and Asia – India and China. Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara were two port cities located on different islands off the coast of Mainland Kilwa; the two areas are places of great historical significance. On these two islands, you will find a large collection of historical ruins dating as far as the 12th century.
From the mainland you will reach Kilwa Kisiwani by a dhow; here you will see ruins of The Big Mosque which dates from the 12th century; it was once the largest mosque in East Africa. South of The Big Mosque you will see a single storey house that once a Sultan’s palace; inside this house, there are four graves and one of them is rumored to be of a Sultan. The house is an illustration of the advanced architectural skills that existed in that part of the world at that time.
About 150 m southwest of the great house is the Small Dome Mosque which is the best-preserved building of ancient Kilwa; the mosque is a beautiful ornamental building from the 15th century and still in use to this day. West of the Small Domed Mosque you will see Makutani Palace (the Palace of Great Walls), which a large fortified building believed to date from the 15th century.
You will also see Husuni Kubwa which was thought to have been the largest building in Equatorial Africa at the zenith of Kilwa. It was a large building with over 100 rooms and conical domes that were as high as 30 m. Across a gully is a smaller version of this building called Husuni Ndogo.
Kilwa Kivinje is a historical trading center that prospered during the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. It retains historical and colonial buildings dating from the 19th century and bears a close resemblance to Bagamoyo. At Kilwa Kivinje you will see an old German colonial boma, a cemetery with tombs and pillars and several historical but rather dilapidated buildings along the main street.
Songo Mnara is about 8 km from Kilwa Kisiwani and contains ruins that date from the 14th and 15th century. The ruins of Songo Mnara contain one of the most complete town layouts along the coast. At Songo Mnara you will see the ruins of the main mosque, the Sultan’s Palace which was at least two storeys and numerous houses. Fragments of porcelain and earthenware dating from the 14th and 15th century abound; some of them have been identified to have originated as far as Egypt.
About 3 km south-west of Songo Mnara is an area called Sanje Majoma; here ruins of once beautiful houses complete with courtyards can be seen. Nearby from Sanje Majoma is an island called Sanje ya Kati which has some lesser ruins dating around the same time as those found at Sanje Majoma.