Historic Sites at the Coast

Historic Sites in Kilifi County

26. Uyombo Ruins

Uyombo is located a bit inland from the south side of Mida Creek. The site is a very ruined mosque in the bush, its mihrab fallen. The only thing of interest is a long conduit, about a metre high, running from a well that is still in use to a cistern that was located at the southeast corner of the mosque. Another cistern and wall close by were from a ruined house. Uyombo Ruins are probably recent.

27. Kilepwa Ruins

Kilepwa is a site on an island in Mida Creek, consisting of a mosque, some tombs and some houses. The site was investigated by Kirkman who, on the basis of local and imported ceramics and porcelains, divided the site into three periods of seven phases, dating from the last half of the 12th Century through the second quarter of the 17th Century. The earliest permanent structure that has survived is the pillar tomb, probably dating to around the middle of the 14th century. This interesting structure has two large single recessed panels on the east facade of the wall. Coral panels composed of three ascending coral tiles alternating with adjacent areas of rough coral masonry today give a pleasing chequered effect to the pillar. “Although Kilepwa continued to be occupied throughout the 16th Century, the scarcity of late Ming sherds would appear to indicate that the population of the area was smaller or poorer” – T. H. Wilson.

28. Mgangani

Mgangani is the site of a mosque southwest of Gedi, near the upper reaches of Mida Creek associated with Somali mosques of the 18th Century. A few piles of rubble nearby suggest that there might have been a few stone houses other than the mosque, but the ‘outpost’, if there were stone houses, must have been small.

29. Kiburugeni

At the southwest end of Blue Lagoon, near Watamu, are a mosque and two tombs named for the area, Kiburugeni. The mihrab has a plain architrave, with two arch orders within the spandrels. At the apex of the arches is the small terminal coast nick. All walls except the qibla have fallen. At the northeast corner abutting the mosque is a large tombstone tomb, with three single recessed panels below a frieze of niches. This is flanked by masonry piers ending in square pyramids. In the facade of the tombstone are recesses for three bowls or dishes; it is almost certain that about half a dozen 11th Century Chinese blue and white porcelain sherds now in the Gede Museum came from this tomb. As the mosque predates the tomb, a late 11th or early 15th century date for the mosque seems appropriate. Behind the large tomb is a smaller one.

30. Gede Ruins

This is found at the corner of Mombasa-Malindi Road and Gede-Watamu Road, 16 kms before arriving at Malindi. Typical of most ancient towns along the East African Coast, the 12th-16th Century Gede Ruins are a relic of the ancient Arab towns. “Gede traces its origin in the 12th Century but was rebuilt with new walls in the 15th and 16th Centuries”. The entire site is estimated to cover 45-acres in the primeval forest at the edge of Arabuko-Sokoke. Gede Ruins are one of three most important historic locations along Kenya’s coast, owing to the quality and quantity of its remains. It was also the first intensively studied site. Work began in 1948, led by James Kirkman, concentrated in the north-central part of the area. Its prime area is comprised of a conglomeration of mosques, palaces and houses, with one of its most imposing structures being the Great Mosque. This as it stands is the youngest of 3 mosques. The first, about which little is known, was built in the mid 15th Century; then, half a century later, a similar Mosque to the present one was built. The latter dates to the mid 16th century. It a large mosque with three rows of six square pillars is further divided in two by a wall.

There are six minor mosques at Gede: the Mosque of the Long Conduit, the Mosque of the Three Aisles, the Small Mosque, the Mosque of the Sarcophagi, the Mosque Between the Walls, and the Mosque on the South Wall. All of the mosques had a single central row of one, two or perhaps three pillars, except the Mosque of the Three Aisles, where two rows of pillars left an unobstructed view of the mihrab. All of the mosques had eastern ablution facilities, again with the probable exception of the Mosque of the Three Aisles, where these seem to have been on the west. The units combined to make up the Gede houses are: forecourts and domestic courts; long rooms, usually spanning the width of the house; small rooms, based on the division of a long room; store rooms, usually at the rear of the house or at the end of a suite of small rooms; toilets of the typical coast type; lobbies and entryways, essentially small rooms for the passage from one area to another; and passageways, usually long / corridors from a street to the entrance of the house. According to historians, Gede was partly wiped off (in 1528) by troopers from Mombasa opposing the Portuguese.

The Ruins of Gede – Published by Jan van Bekkum

31. Portuguese Chapel

The Portuguese interest in East Africa stretches back to the late 14th Century, with aims of establishing a trading empire and to outflank Islam commercially, politically, militarily, and religiously. The decision to conquer East Africa was taken by the Portuguese after Vasco da Gama’s return to Portugal in 1499, from an exploratory voyage of East Africa in 1499 on which he forged friendly bonds with Malindi. Build around 1500 and enlisted in 1935 as a national monument, the tiny Portuguese Chapel, 550 ms south of Malindi Museum along Silversand Road (also known as Mama Ngina) is arguably the foremost Church of Kenya. Outstandingly, it’s still in use.  One of its momentous milestones happened in 1542, when on his voyage to India Saint Francis Xavier S.J., one of the greatest missionaries since St. Paul, visited the antiqued Portuguese Chapel.  There are two outlying graves found close to the Chapel where Saint Francis buried two of his sailors before embarking on his journey to India. After the Portuguese left Malindi in November 1698, it was deserted, until the British arrived in 1893. While the Portuguese had garnered some success with trade, they did not fair well with spreading Christianity in East Africa. They had won some converts in Malindi and some in Mombasa but their endeavor had no permanent success.

32. Vasco da Gama Cross

This is found 400 ms south of the Portuguese Chapel, standing stentinel at the edge of a peninsula almost 520 years since it was set up here. Looking out to the infinite ocean horizon, Vasco da Gama Cross connects trippers to a far-removed history of the 1490’s. In January 1498, Vasco da Gama’s exploratory voyage had reached the island and town of Mozambique, now under the influence of Kilwa, before arriving to a very hostile welcome in Mombasa, and more significantly to a friendly one at Malindi – the arch-rival of Mombasa. Soon after his arrival at Mombasa, Vasco da Gama set off for the coastal town of Malindi (or Melinda, as he liked to call it) that would later become the seat of the viceroy in East Africa. The welcome and proceedings in Malindi had been cordial and before departing for India he erected the infamous stone pillar cross as was customary, as a sign of amicable relationship. Some say, Vasco da Gama Cross depicts a trimmed down version of a ship, while others have suggested it resembles a giant sword. Either way, it is a deeply moving monument that memorializes the Portuguese conquest of East Africa, and one of the most captivating chapters in its history.

Vasco da Gama tower in Malindi - Picture of Turtle Bay Beach Club, Watamu -  Tripadvisor

This monument was brought by Da Gama from Portugal and set up in Malindi; possibly it was moved to its present location, at the end of a coral projection into the sea south of the town, a few years later. Today the cross is seen as a large monument with the small cross atop a large, flat-topped cone of masonry built on a circular pedestal. T.H

33. Jemadari Mosque

Although Malindi is one of the most historic old towns on the coast of Kenya, few monumental antiquities survive in the area. Those that survived include, from south to north: a south mosque, the Da Gama Cross, parts of a Portuguese Chapel, the famous pillar tombs and the Jemadari Mosque. The Jemadari Mosque is on the north side of Malindi, near the sea and Malindi Golf and Country Club. The mihrab design is interesting for its highly stilted multiple arch orders; its panelled jamb blocks, decorated with cable pattern mouldings. Although the east side of the mosque is buried and the south side has fallen, the plan of the mosque was probably the six room type: musalla flanked on each side by anterooms behind which, on the south edge, were three smaller rooms.

34. Mambrui

The most interesting of the Mambrui tombs was studied by Kirkman, in 1950, is a large tomb with a decagonal pillar about 1.6 metres wide and 5.5 metres high. In a frieze around the top of the shaft wore set ten late King blue and white porcelain bowls and plates, one alternating with the other, of late 16th Century. Adjoining this tomb on the north is a compound with a large tombstone on its east wall and, like the enclosure of the pillar tomb, with a doorway in its west walls Nearby is another tombstone tomb, which once had a circular coral boss set in the centre of the tombstone; although the stump of this boss remains. The old Mambrui Mosque is located on some high ground just above the beach, east of the cemetery. Leading from the musalla out to the west was a single square headed doorway, while in the north end of the west wall was a niche or window.

35. Kibirikani Ruins

In the style of the Kongo Mosque and the Munge mosque by the sea, this located at the rear of Sheshale Bay-about 3 kms north of Mambrui, at a point where a channel sometimes washes water into the sea but at high water is itself filled part way up stream by the sea. The site of one Mosque, Kibirikani is located several tens of metres from the beach, in dense bush on the south side of the channel. The mihrab and a few walls on the southwest side stand, including a small cistern, from which perhaps the site takes its name (Birikani).

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