Overview

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Deemed as one of Kenya’s great mysteries, the Gedi (sometimes spelled “Gede”) ruins are the remains of a Swahili town buried deep in a lush forest along the East African Coast. It traces its origin to the twelfth century but was rebuilt with new town walls in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as a result of an increasing population from surrounding coastal villages and towns. The town was first visited by Sir John Kirk, a British resident of Zanzibar in 1884 and in 1927, it was penned as a Historical Monument. Preservation of its walls had thus been carried out and since 1948 has been declared a National park in Kenya.

Historians speculate that the name “Gedi” was given to the town either by a hostile nomadic ethnic group from Somalia called the “Galla” before they destroyed it, or that it may have been the name of the last tribal leader to live on the site, as it’s also used as a person’s name meaning “Precious.” There is virtually no written record of Gedi, but the artifacts and infrastructure ruins that remain prove it once hosted an advanced and prosperous civilization of around 2,500 people. However, the real mystery that has stumped researchers is the well-established town’s sudden abandonment and incredible development.

Gedi was a very advanced city with streets, running water, and flushing toilets thus correcting the assumption that Africa was behind the rest of the world before colonialism. The quality of the ruins which consists of coral-brick houses, a palace, and even mosques, makes this advanced settlement astonishing to most visitors. The town was a cosmopolitan urban setting and a thriving trade hub. Archaeologists have found Ming Chinese vases, Venetian glass as well as other artifacts from all over the world, evidence that the inhabitants of Gedi traded heavily with cultures outside their own.

The town reached its peak in the fifteenth century, becoming very wealthy due to factors such as its numerous inhabitants and international trade. The presence of an accumulation of mosques, a magnificent palace, and houses all nestled in 45 acres of forest showed just how developed this nation was. The prosperous town was abandoned in the 16th century, reoccupied for a short time, and then permanently abandoned in the early 17th century. The reason is thought to be as a result of a number of factors. One of them being the Wazimba raid along the East African coast in 1589. Additionally, the dropping water levels displayed by the deepening of the well outside the Great Mosque could have also been a reason. Others speculate that there could have been an epidemic; and finally, there was the constant threat of the Galla.