In Summary
  • Each year, about 60,000 tourists visit the ruins for leisure, education and prayers due to its rich archaeological value.
  • The town was an important commercial centre that exported ivory, gold, leopard skins, tortoise shells and ambergris.

About 800 years ago, Gedi in Kilifi County was one of the largest and most prosperous towns along the East African coast — until it was abandoned at the beginning of the 17th century.

Its ruins, now managed by the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), are located near Watamu, 16 kilometres south of Malindi. It was an important Swahili-Arab settlement.

They were discovered in the thick forest by colonialists in 1884 when Sir John Kirk, a British resident of Zanzibar, visited the site, although excavations did not begin until 1948, under the supervision of archaeologist James Kirkman.

Interestingly, the rubble from finely crafted stone buildings, mosques, palaces, mansions, toilets, wells and tombs still stand today in the 45-acre tract surrounded by the expansive Arabuko Sokoke Forest.

Among the important items excavated from the site and now on display are pottery, glass, beads and coins, which provide evidence of the city's prosperity.

TOURISM

Archaeologists say the city was planned in such a way that it had banks, law courts, guest houses, a palace and streets, judging from the remains of the inner and outer wall along with coins, the sultan’s palace and mosques.

Each year, about 60,000 tourists visit the ruins for leisure, education and prayers due to its rich archaeological value, the 500 year-old baobab trees, mosques and tombs believed to have supernatural powers.

Mr Mbarak Abdulqadir, Gedi’s NMK curator, says the town was founded in the early 12th century and grew steadily, until it was abandoned for unclear reasons at the beginning of the 17th century.

“Its abandonment is partly attributed to invasion by the southward movement of the Galla, a rustic tribal group, and the absence of fresh water,” he says, adding, “Today all the wells in Gedi have turned brackish."

TRADE CENTRE

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