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The Ancient Ruins of Gedi

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Kenya has several contrasting tourist attractions per square mile. It probably has more than any other country in the world. This fact is evident on the Kenyan Coast. The Kenyan Coast has opulent hotels, seaports, animal ad marine parks and an incredible nightlife.

The ruins of Gedi

One of the most amazing of these antiquities is the town of Gedi located on the North Coast. It is about fifteen miles from Mombasa. The nearest settlement is Watamu, which was originally a Giriama fishing village. Watamu has come of age, the antiquities of Gedi are a complete contrast with its atmosphere of an ancient culture untainted by modern life.

The Ancient Ruins of Gedi

Gedi was officially opened as a historical site in 1948. It consists of the ruins of a 15th Century Arab-African town. It originally covered an area of 18 hectares. Two sets of walls were built around the town that, in its heyday, contained a population of about 2,500 residents.

The first wall encircled the entire town, including all the mud and thatch huts. The second one, the inner wall, was built much later and encircled only a prestigious zone, an area that forms the present ruins of Gedi.

The afternoon is the best time to visit the ruins. The sunlight creates a dappled shade that filters through the leaves of the impenetrable jungle. This enhances the eerie atmosphere. Local people are perturbed by the ruins.

James Kirkman, the archaeologist who first worked at Gedi, said "When I first started to work at Gedi, I had a feeling that something or somebody was looking out from behind the walls, neither hostile nor friendly, but waiting for what they knew was going to happen. "

Gedi was built in the late 13th or early 14th Century, but the reasons for its construction are vague. James Kirkman says its construction might have been due to a dispute which commenced in Malindi when some people left to build a new settlement. Others presume that, in those days, a river flowed past the site which would account for the establishment of a town there. Even more mysterious is the question of why the town was suddenly deserted in the 17th Century.

Experts have drawn the conclusion that marauding Galla from Somalia forced the abandonment of large parts of Kenya’s coast, up to 15 miles north of Mombasa, including Gedi.

Ancient ruins

Ancient ruins

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Origins of the name Gedi

The name Gedi means ‘precious’ in Galla. It is either the name the Galla people gave the town, or it refers to the last Galla leader. Others say the purported river dried up, which would obviously drive people away. The Gedi ruins are divided into three sections – the Great Mosque, the Palace, and the Houses.

Apart from these main categories, there are several other mosques and pillars scattered over the site. One of the most important pillar tombs is the ‘Dated Tomb’ which bears an epitaph, AH 802/AD 1399, which has made it possible to estimate the date of the foundation of the different buildings

Amazing Gedi architecture

The Great Mosque is famous for its three un-Arabic rows of six rectangular pillars. Archaeologists have found a middle row of pillars that run down the centre of a building in East Africa. The Pillar Tomb close to the Great Mosque is a good example of the strong African influence in Gedi, since its rather eccentric style with a phallic shape is not common in the Islamic culture.

Ancient Ruins

Ancient Ruins

The Palace is the most impressive part of the whole site, covering about a quarter of an acre. Particularly striking are the numerous sanitary places, indicating that the people of Gedi had an advanced sanitation system. Other interesting parts of the Palace are sunken courts that served as reception rooms, the separate women’s court, the deep well, and the strong room that was used for storing valuables.

Earthenware pots that have been found buried below the floor of several rooms in the Palace were believed to contain guardian spirits meant to drive visitors with evil intentions crazy.

In addition to the Palace and the Great Mosque, several houses have been cleared and given unusual names like House of Porcelain and House of Ivory, probably indicating their past use. There is a small museum where some of the pottery that has been found in the ruins is displayed, and there is more originally from Gedi on display in Fort Jesus in Mombasa.

Ancient Ruins

Ancient Ruins

The ruins are enchanting and are adorned with stunning buttress-rooted trees inhabited by tiny monkeys. Lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of the Golden rumped elephant shrew. Even this peep into the natural world only enhances the haunting, mysterious splendor of this ancient city, which still keeps its secrets locked away.

The ruins are opened daily. A guided tour of the North Coast, which includes a visit to Gedi, is organized by Mombasa Coast Tourist Organization, and their office is in Moi Avenue, adjacent to the artificial elephant tusks which arch over the main road.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Uriel Kushiel

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