Kilwa Kisiwani ('Kilwa on the Island') is a quiet fishing village baking in the sun just offshore from Kilwa Masoko. In its heyday it was the seat of sultans and centre of a vast trading network linking the old Shona kingdoms and the goldfields of Zimbabwe with Persia, India and China. Ibn Battuta, the famed traveller and chronicler of the ancient world, visited Kilwa in the early 14th century and described the town as being exceptionally beautiful and well constructed. At its height, Kilwa’s influence extended north past the Zanzibar Archipelago and south as far as Sofala on the central Mozambican coast.
While these glory days are now well in the past, the ruins of the settlement – together with the ruins on nearby Songo Mnara island – are among the most significant groups of Swahili buildings on the East African coast and a Unesco World Heritage Site.