Kenya is blessed with many unexplored treasures and unique landmarks, one of which is the ancient town of Gedi, which is locally referred to as the “Gedi Ruins.” This site, which is located inside the Arabuko Sokoke Forest in Kilifi, is one of the few remaining ancient towns in Kenya.
For many years, this site has baffled archaeologists and historians given that there are no written records of it. Nevertheless, the existing artifacts and structures at the site tell of a thriving town that hosted an advanced and affluent population before it was mysteriously forsaken in the 17th century.
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Gedi is estimated to have been established in the late-13th century and is one of the many medieval Swahili-Arab coastal settlements on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Among the remnants of the town is a palace, several mosques, and houses. All these structures are made of stones and plaster.
Theories of Demise
While the Gedi Ruins has remained one of the most popular tourist attraction sites in Kenya, very little is known about it. This has left a lot of room for conjecture and mythology as people seek to demystify its existence.
One theory on how Gedi was deserted proposes that unknown invaders destroyed the town; however, historians and archaeologists contend that there is no evidence of battle or disruption in this ancient town.
Another theory suggests that Gedi’s population, which is estimated to have been around 2,500 people, may have been forced out of the town by the receding waters of the Indian Ocean, which reportedly depleted the available wells, making the town uninhabitable.
Yet, there is no documented evidence supporting this claim either.
It is also purported that Portuguese explorers brought a deadly disease known as the Black Plague, which had no cure, to Gedi and it wiped out the entire population.
Recently, a new theory emerged alleging that the Galla community, an inland ethnic group known to have been very hostile, forced the early inhabitants of Gedi to flee. However, once again, there is no evidence to back this theory.
Discovery & Excavation
The Gedi Ruins was first discovered in 1884 by Sir John Kirk, a British resident of Zanzibar.
The site was later rediscovered in the early 1920s, and initial excavations began in the late-1940s. The site’s excavations were carried out by the British East African government under the supervision of James Kirkman and continued until 1958, with intermittent excavations occurring between 1960 and 1980.
The presence of inner walls in this ancient town has been attributed to the existence of Portuguese people along the Kenyan coast in the 16th century.
The mosques had wells and washing amenities that historians say were used for cleansing before worship, which is typical of the Muslim religion.
The existing residential houses at Gedi Ruins are all located within the inner walls and illustrate the living conditions of the elite members of the ancient society.
The site remains a mysterious and unique place to visit in Kenya, particularly with the pillar and stone walls, ruined palace, and mosques that are surrounded by thick canopies of trees.