Tongoni Ruins

Northeastern Tanzania

About 20km south of Tanga and just off the coastal road, the Tongoni ruins are set picturesquely amidst the baobabs on a low rise overlooking stands of mangroves and the sea. They include the crumbling remains of a mosque and about 20 overgrown Shirazi pillar-style tombs, the largest collection of such tombs on the East African coast. Both the mosque and the tombs are estimated to date from the 14th or 15th century.

Tongoni’s heyday was in the 15th century, when it had its own sultan and was an inadvertent port of call for Vasco da Gama, whose ship ran aground here. By the early 18th century the settlement had declined to the point of nonexistence, due to Portuguese disruption of local trade networks and the fall of Mombasa. In the late 18th century, it was resettled by Shirazis fleeing Kilwa (who named it Sitahabu, or ‘Better Here Than There’), and experienced a brief revival, before declining completely shortly thereafter.

Although most of Tongoni’s pillars have long since toppled to the ground, you can still see the recessed areas on some where decorative porcelain vases and offering bowls were placed. There are also about two dozen more recent, and largely unremarkable, tombs dating from the 18th or 19th century.

To get here, take any vehicle heading towards Pangani along the coastal road and get out at the turn-off (marked by a rusty signboard). The ruins are about 1km further east on foot, on the far edge of the village (ask for ‘magofu’). It’s worth getting an early start, as finding a lift back in the afternoon can be difficult. Taxis from town charge from about Tsh50,000 for the round trip. The Tanga tourism office, Tanga Cultural Tourism Enterprise, charges US$52 for car rental.

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