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The Sultanate of Kilwa was among the greatest naval powers in the Middle East and Africa, yet today only ruins remain
The words of Ibn Battuta
“Kilwa is located in a very rainy area and is a beautiful and well-built city, with all the wooden houses and the roofs in dis [giunco][rush]. The inhabitants, mostly of the Shafiite rite, honest and virtuous, are engaged in a jihad because their territory is adjacent to that of the wicked Zanj. ”Ibn Battuta
The legendary origin of Kilwa
According to tradition, the first nucleus of Kilwa was founded by Ali ibn al Hassan Shirazi, son of the emir of Shiraz Hassan and of an Abyssinian slave. Precisely because of his birth, his stepbrothers’ inheritance was stolen and for this he was forced to flee to Africa, going to
He managed to deal with the Bantu king of the time, Almuli, who sold him how much land he could occupy with colored cloth. Ali obviously used the ancient trick of cutting the fabric into very fine threads, which gave him the right to a huge piece of land, attracting criticism from the king. The latter tried to escape the promise given but, as soon as he arrived in front of Kilwa, he realized that the prince had had a moat dug, separating it forever from the mainland and giving life to his legend.
The lords of the sea
These “mythical” births served to legitimize the rulers of the island, who appeared as familiar to the locals and as princes of rank to foreigners, favoring their rapid expansion. In a very short time, in fact, Kilwa managed to become even more powerful and important than Mogadishu, attracting merchants from every corner of the world. The local economy prospered to such an extent that, within a few years, the sultanate the city also occupied the nearby island of Mafia, giving way to unprecedented expansion.
In the 12th century they came to conquer Sofala, a key place for the gold and ivory trade, then also taking cities such as: Malindi, Mombasa, Zanzibar and Mozambique, becoming de facto masters of the whole so-called “Swahili coast“. At that time Kilwa became so powerful and wealthy that he could afford the luxury of not producing his own food resources, going to buy any food from his Bantu neighbors, except for
The decline of the sultanate
As history teaches, the arrival of great powers comes with great tensions and internal strife, which also happened in the case of Kilwa. At the end of the 15th century, in fact, there were continuous internal unrest between the ruling family and other noble clans, which greatly weakened the country when the
Lisbon then installed a trusted man here, but he was quickly killed, giving way to ever stronger and more powerful political unrest. With the growth of the latter, the city was first sacked, but was freed in 1512 by an Arab mercenary. However, the looting forever altered its course of history, so much so that in 1784 it was conquered by the Sultanate of Oman and later by the French. With their arrival, however, the city was completely abandoned, so much so that today only ruins remain.
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