Historic Sites at the Coast

Historic Sites in Kilifi County

If one is interested in exploring the compelling history of the Coast Region of Kenya, few destinations can better the enriching experience of Kilifi County.  Its charm in beauty and extent of historic sites has attracted the attention of many adventure-makers. Along the coast of Kilifi, ecclesiastical ruins are frequently to be seen, dating back in some cases to the early 9th Century.  Jumba la Mtwama, found just a few kilometres north of the city of Mombasa, is a perfect example. The famous Gede Ruins which are just off the main Mombasa-Malindi Road, near Watamu, and which can be visited within a day from Mombasa or Malindi, are perhaps the most interesting of these reminders of the Arabic influence on the Coast. At Gede Ruins, there are extensive ruins of palaces, a walled ancient town, numerous tombs, and several important remains of large heroic mosques.

Map of Coastline along Kilifi Counties.  Image Courtesy
Map of Lower Coastline along Kilifi Counties. Image Courtesy

20. Mtwapa Ruins

Mtwapa Ruins is a large site on the north side of Mtwapa Creek, in thick bush, with many walls of about 60 houses still standing, stretching several hundred metres north to south; but the breadth of the site is continually reduced by the construction of houses overlooking the creek and the ocean. It is not difficult to imagine that Mtwapa was once considerably larger than its present size. Cut coral was used for the edges of doorways and decorative pilasters. A town wall surrounded the site and may be seen today as a high mound of earth extending across roads and through the bush. There was apparently one congregatioral mosque at Mtwapa, still seen at the site. “The Mtwapa Ruins is a site of great archaeological potential, for settlement pattern studies, survey and mapping, architectural study and excavation. Few other sites could rival it in quantity and quality of its standing remains. It would have had much more potential for development as a national monument if its access to the sea and Mtwapa Creek had not been cut off by new houses, which must have greatly damaged the site”.

21. Jumba la Mtwana

Eke-named “the house of many doors” or “the slavemaster’s house”, Jumba la Mtwana is perhaps the most pronounced structure along the Coast Region of Kenya, and among the best preserved ancient ruins. It consists of four mosques and a number of houses located in a picturesque setting on and above the beach not far north of the mouth of Mtwapa Creek; or again: “Jumba la Mtwana has four mosques, a tomb and four houses that survived in recognizable condition. These houses include the House of the Cylinder, The House of the Kitchen, The House of the Many Pools and the Great Mosque; all part of its three phases. The inhabitants of this centre were mainly Muslims as evidenced by its numbers of ruined mosques”. The site was investigated in depth by James Kirkman in 1972, who cleared some of the houses and at least one of the mosques. He dates the site to the late 11th Century early 15th Century. One of the mosques of Jumba la Mtwana, cleared and planned by Kirkman (1972) is aptly known as the Great Mosque or the Mosque by the Sea. There is a second mosque near the centre of the site, a small mosque at the far western end, and the fourth mosque, or the domed mosque, is found some metres north of the cleared areas of the National Monument. North of this mosque is a cemetery, with several tomb enclosures abutting the little coral cliff to the west. The style of architecture seen at Jumba la Mtwana is comparable to the style of ancient ruins found at the Songo-Mnara Region, of Tanzania’s Coast. The ruins are found 16 kms north of Mombasa, off Mombasa-Malindi-Lamu Road for 4 kms to the northern end of Mtwapa Creek.

A Section of Jumba la Mtwana Ruins in Kilifi. Image Courtesy

22. Vipingo Mosque

The Vipingo mosque is located on the beach about 14 kms north of Mtwapa and 3 kms southeast of Kijepwa Police Station. The qibla and west side of the north wall stand, and some of the western walls may be traced, but the eastern side of the mosque has been eroded by the sea. There’s little evidence that remains of what was possibly a wall. The roofing of the mosque supports a more narrow musalla, and to the west of the scar the top of the wall falls with a sharp pitch. This pitch continues down to the north arched doorway of the western room, and probably indicates the roof was of makuti. The wall height of the western room appears to have been no higher than the spring line of the archway; the area thus probably functioned as an open verandah. The mihrab is framed in a plain architrave, with plain jambs below offset capitals of two narrow members.

23. Kinuni Ruins

Kinuni is a small site of one mosque and a group of tombs located on a beautiful beach just north of a coral outcrop at the end of a well-kept access road in the Kuruwitu Conservancy. Portions of the site were excavated and reported on by James Kirkman in 1975. Only the western anteroom of the mosque stands, the northern part to full height. The surviving northwest doorway of the musalla is a simple archway with edges of coral. The western doorways of the anteroom were squared. There might have been a western verandah. The mihrab and the eastern areas of the mosque are completely destroyed. Of the tombs at Kinuni labelled A to E by Kirkman, ‘A’ is the largest of the tombs over 17 metres in area.

24. Kitoka Ruins

Kitoka, on the north bank of Takaungu Creek, along with Mnarani on the south bank of Kilifi Creek and Kilifi Ruins on the north bank, were the settlements of the old “city state” of Kilifi – Kirkman 1959. Kitoka is a site of two mosques and numerous houses, today covering an area of about six acres, although it is likely that in the past the site was considerably larger. Plans of the two mosques and elevations of their mihrabs were first cited by Garlake, in 1956. The mihrab of the large mosque is still in good condition, with two arch orders above and two recessed jambs below single member capitals. Some of the more interesting features or characteristics of the houses at Kitoka include the doorways in the houses framed by architraves, often with single niches in each of the pilasters. Also, the archways at Kitoka themselves were often once or twice recessed from spandrel level, either including the jambs or above the level of “springing” only.

25. Mnarani Ruins

Among the plentiful ruins of ancient Swahili towns along the Coast of Kenya is Mnarani, which was occupied in the 14th Century. It serves as a great example of the ancient civilization that thrived here for hundreds of years.  To start with, there is a magnificent pillar tomb with a Friday Masjid (Mosque) and 12 tombs labelled from A to L, still in good condition. Then, there are the captivating fine carvings at its large pillar tomb, which is marked by layered arcs on the mihrab with stellar coral inscriptions still in immaculate condition. It has slave tunnels too.  The ancient Mnarani Ruins are located at south bank of Kilifi Creek, about 55 kms north of Mombasa City, and just 200 ms off Mombasa to Malindi Road.

View of the Pillar Tomb within the Mnarani Ruins. Image Courtesy