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Video transcript

I'm speaking with Steven battle who's Program Director for sub-saharan Africa for the World Monuments fund and we're talking about the ancient city of Kilwa Kilwa is located in the south of Tanzania and in fact there are two islands in the Kilwa archipelago killakee Suwannee and Tsonga Nara today surrounded by dense mangrove it's hard to reimagine what this landscape must have looked like when these ports were in their heyday these were cosmopolitan centers so nowadays it's a very poor part of the world there is a village on each of the islands for most people in those villages make their living from fishing or from subsistence farming but at one time it was probably the most powerful city-state in the whole of East Africa and there were a series of city-states these were trading centres that dotted the Swahili coast down the east coast of Africa the words where Healy means in Arabic people of the coast this was a civilization occupied coastal East Africa from around beginning of the ninth century through until the 17th 18th century indeed descendants of the Swahili still live along the coast of East Africa so this is an indigenous culture but one that readily absorbed influences from the entire Indian Ocean region the Swahili were traders they were merchants they traded all across the Indian Ocean north to the Gulf region east to India and as far away as China and we can see that probably most clearly in the fact that this is an Islamic culture and for instance in the mosque we see embedded in the wall a bowl from China celadon ceramics and so we see evidence of this cosmopolitan environment the Swahili was really a collection of city-states dotted along the East African coast each had a certain degree of autonomy with its own Sultan but by the mid 14th century the Sultan of Kilwa had asserted his power over all of the city-state and the source of his and if his wealth was really control over the gold trade gold was mined in what is today Zimbabwe and brought on foot to the coast in what is today northern Mozambique loaded on to dowse sailing ships and then transported north ending up in the marketplaces of Fatimid Cairo and the Sultan of Kilwa levied a customs duty and all of that exported gold passing through the waters that he controlled and thereby grew fabulously wealthy and we can see evidence of that wealth if we look for instance at the Great Palace on Kilwa and we can see here evidence of gardens a pool most famously both the private residence and the commercial activities that was the source of wealth for this culture the Great Palace is known in Kiswahili as ho SUNY Coupe WA and it was built by sultan hassan amin Suleiman it has been described by an eminent art historian Peter garlic as the earliest surviving major building on the coast of East Africa south of Somalia and by far the largest and most sophisticated when you look at photographs with a little bit difficult I think to reconstruct what the palace might have looked like in part because what we see are these large extremely rough blocks of coral it's important to imagine that they were smooth and that many of these surfaces were in fact painted so the palace consists of two main areas there's a public area and a private area and in the public area there's a very large courtyard with a number of storerooms and that area would have been used for trade goods taken by the Sultan there's an intermediary space which is an audience hall or Diwan which consists of a sunken courtyard with a series of steep steps where people coming to see the Sultan would have sat and faced him and then you get to the private part of the building built around a bathing pool open to the view across the harbor and the Sultan would have bathed inside this pool whilst watching the sunset over mainland Africa I find it so interesting this more public mercantile space of the Diwan traveler given an audience and the kinds of cross-cultural opportunities but soon enough this wealth would attract the Portuguese so in 1498 the first Portuguese ship sailed up the coast of East Africa Portuguese had come to Africa in search of gold and they found it at Kilwa in 1505 the Portuguese established a garrison of soldiers on Kilwa you have to remember that the Swahili were really a mercantile people they had great seafaring skills but had no experience of sea warfare and could not match in any way that firepower of the Portuguese the best physical evidence we have that represents this occupation is a fourth which dominates the view from the sea remarkably contemporary Portuguese accounts say that the fort was built in 16 days that's a little difficult to credit but it's clear when you examine the building that it was based on an existing house and it seems again from looking at contemporary accounts that the Portuguese demolished a number of other houses in the close proximity and used the materials taken from those demolished houses to build up the fort it seems by the time the Portuguese garrison left in 1512 it was really quite a substantial defensive building situated on the edge of the harbor and the Portuguese would remain a very powerful presence in the Indian Ocean but they would be replaced by the emani's by the Sultan of Oman up in the Persian Gulf the Omani Arabs had been trading up and down the East African coast for centuries after the Portuguese arrived they increasingly came into conflict with the emani's and so in the late 17th early 18th century they launched a systematic attempt to kick the Portuguese out of East Africa forever and it's at this point that Kilwa experiences of resurgence a kind of economic boom under the Omani in fact the Omani loved the East African coast so much that they would relocate their capital to the coast of Africa and there would be a significant building campaign in Kilwa as well and probably most extravagant example is an Armani Palace the foundations of this palace the so-called makutano palace were built by one of the earliest Swahili Sultan's but when the emani's finally gained complete control over kill where and the rest of the East African coast they expanded greatly added to the makutano palace and created the structure that you see today Kilwa source of wealth was clearly gold but it also transformed over time this would have included ivory and enslaved peoples but as time progressed enslaved peoples made a larger and larger percentage of Trade and of the wealth of the city kilwa became in the mid 19th century the major of transshipment point from mainland Africa to the principal slave market on Zanzibar so the makutano palace consists of a building within a building the palace is really at the center and that would have been the residential area but that sits within a much larger walled stockade used to store trade goods but also most likely would have been used to imprison enslaved peoples before they ship north to Zanzibar we have the indigenous while healy culture building on this island the Portuguese asserting their influence and then the market on a palace this expression of Omani control this layering of history and now all of it is in ruins but the World Monuments fund is stepping in and that's what's so remarkable about kyoki Suwanee and its sister island Tsonga Nara it really represents a slice through over 800 years of East African culture starting from the early 10th century the swahili occupations right up until the early 20th century when it became the capital of colonial german east africa what's remarkable is that extraordinary structures from each of these periods of occupation still stand on those two islands