The mysterious Gedi Ruins near Malindi in Kenya suggest a thriving Swahili city was once located within a dense indigenous forest, however there is no written record of its existence. Who lived there and why did they abandon the city to the jungle?
It seems Gedi was abandoned by design, as the inhabitants had time to clear out their precious belongings before departure. A special strong room with only a trap door for an entrance was found in every house - they were all empty. What would cause at least 2 500 people to leave their homes for no apparent reason? This is the subject of much debate!
Why Gedi was established at all is a puzzle. If the city was important in some way its presence would have been noted for sure, also the evidence of extensive trading activities at Gedi belie its remote position deep in a forest which was miles from the sea.
The questions being asked are what were the citizens trading with and who were the customers?
Gedi was built on an extensive site in the 13th century and constructed with rock and coral. The town planners clearly knew what they were doing as the city was carefully arranged. It had water wells, advanced sanitation and drainage systems as well as flush toilets! The city consisted of a palace, mosques, mansions and houses, tombs and grounds for burial.
This Muslim city grew prosperous and flourished until the 16th century when an exodus occurred for reasons unknown. Gedi was finally abandoned in the early 17th century. The city was lost to the forest until 1894 when a British resident of Zanzibar investigated the site, but it was not actually acknowledged until 1927 when the ruins were declared a National Monument of Kenya.
The ruins are heavily overgrown and located in a stand of beautiful indigenous trees. Butterflies flit through the sun-dappled shadows and the tree canopy is alive with birds and curious monkeys. The forest floor is thick with leaves and rabbit sized shrews scuttle about. It's an atmospheric place and well worth a visit.
Gedi was excavated between 1948 and 1958 during which time many buildings and artefacts were uncovered. You can see ancient porcelain embedded in the walls and fascinating finds in the museum such as Venetian beads and scissors from Spain, also objects from China and India plus carved furniture. There are experienced guides at the museum and you can walk around the entire site. Souvenirs and refreshments are available at the shop.
At the entrance to the Gedi Ruins is the Kipepo Butterfly Project. This is a great community endeavour which brings in much needed income for the local people. The special butterflies of the Arabuko Sokoke Forest are bred here and then sent to live displays around the world.
The Arabuko Sokoke National Park features the last great indigenous coastal forest in Kenya. It is the home of Forest Elephant and a range of rare flora and fauna including the endemic Clarke's Weaver, making it an ecological hotspot.
You can self-drive to the ruins or take a guided tour from Malindi which is situated on the northern Swahili Coast. Gedi is located south of Malindi, about 16km (10 miles) from the town, just off the Malindi-Mombasa Road in the Arabuko Sokoke Forest.
by Heather Willowmore