The first European to visit Lake Kivu was the German count Adolf von Götzen in 1894, although it was the early accounts of the Duke of Mecklenburg that are credited with fixing the lake in the European imagination. In 1907 the Duke declared that Kivu was ‘the most beautiful of all the Central African lakes, framed by banks which fall back steeply from the rugged masses of rock and at the rear the stately summits of eight Virunga volcanoes’.
Of course, the lake’s history stretches back eons before the age of European colonisation. A shallow lake was most likely formed here approximately two million years ago by the very same tectonic activity that wrenched open the Albertine Rift Valley. However, the lake in its present shape formed about 20,000 years ago when lava flows from the Virungas created a natural dam, separating Kivu from Lake Edward and substantially increasing its water levels.