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K. Kris Hirst

Swahili Coast Town of Songo Mnara

By November 22, 2012

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Surely the coolest name ever for an archaeological site is Songo Mnara: and it happens to have been a trading center for the Swahili culture, a society of cosmopolitan merchants who flourished in the region of the Persian Gulf between the 11th and 16th centuries AD.

Courtyard of the Palace at Songo Mnara
Courtyard of the Palace at Songo Mnara. Stephanie Wynne-Jones/Jeffrey Fleisher, 2011

Songo Mnara is a walled town located off the coast of Tanzania, near the far more famous Kilwa Kisiwani. Songo has numerous room blocks wrapped around internal plazas, five mosques and some elite residences for either sultans or others involved in international trading. The ruins of these stone structures are still visible today, including this lovely palace with its stepped internal courtyard.

By the way, I got fired up about Songo Mnara and the Swahili Coast when I ran across an article by archaeologists Stephanie Wynne-Jones and Jeffrey Fleisher, in the African Archaeological Review. Dr. Wynne-Jones was kind enough to lend her support, suggestions and a few terrific photos of their ongoing excavations there. Look for lots more on the Swahili Culture in the days to come.

Fleisher J, and Wynne-Jones S. 2012. Finding Meaning in Ancient Swahili Spatial Practices. African Archaeological Review 29(2):171-207.


November 27, 2012 at 9:20 am
(1) Bridget says:

I’m really looking forward to reading more of your posts on the Swahili culture. I first became interested in that area after reading about Chibuene in last quarter’s Antiquity. Since then I’ve expanded my reading to include early maritime trading networks throughout the Indian Ocean and am finding it a most fascinating subject.

December 2, 2012 at 12:11 am
(2) Christopher says:

I have been fascinated by Swahili culture and East Africa since I was young- my father was stationed in Nairobi in the Royal Navy during WWII and had many adventures all along the coast. Consequently, he loved to tell them and I loved hearing them. Songo Mnara is not a place that he ever told about and it sounds extremely interesting.

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