Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere

Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere

Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere

Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere

Synopsis

On the Swahili coast of East Africa, monumental stone houses, tombs, and mosques mark the border zone between the interior of the African continent and the Indian Ocean. Prita Meier explores this coastal environment and shows how an African mercantile society created a place of cosmopolitan longing. Meier understands architecture as more than a way to remake local space. Rather, the architecture of this liminal zone was an expression of the desire of coastal inhabitants to belong to places beyond their homeports. Here architecture embodies modern ideas and social identities engendered by the encounter of Africans with others in the Indian Ocean world.

Excerpt

On the Swahili coast of east Africa, monumental stone demarcates the border zone between the African continent and the Indian Ocean. Since at least the twelfth century locals have built luminously white coral stone houses, tombs, and mosques to transform wild coastlands into ordered civilization. Kilwa, a powerful port city in the fourteenth century, was famous for the glowing whiteness of its stone façades. Its harbor palace complex, known as Husuni Kubwa (figure 0.1), once dominated the coast of east Africa, its vaulted pavilions, domed halls, and hundred-plus rooms covering nearly a hectare on a promontory overlooking the Indian Ocean. a luminous white lime plaster, made of shells and coral, covered its walls, reflecting the light of the sun so that its grandeur could be seen from great distances by incoming ships. Kilwa’s networks connected the societies and economies of mainland Africa with the maritime world of the western Indian Ocean, and a key function of its waterfront architecture was to structure the exchange of ideas, goods, and also people across vast distances. It was an architecture of mercantile mobility whose style mirrored the built form of oversea emporia, especially those of the Arabian Sea.

Kilwa and many other Swahili city-states have long since been destroyed or abandoned, their stately ruins scattered all along the coastal territories of present-day Tanzania and Kenya. Yet such thriving coastal . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.