Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere

By Prita Meier | Go to book overview

Introduction
The Place In-between

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

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Swahili Port Cities: The Architecture of Elsewhere
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - The Place in-between 1
  • One - Difference Set in Stone Place and Race in Mombasa 26
  • Two - A "Curious" Minaret Sacred Place and the Politics of Islam 66
  • Three - Architecture out of Place the Politics of Style in Zanzibar 102
  • Four - At Home in the World Living with Transoceanic Things 139
  • Conclusion - Trading Places 179
  • Appendix 189
  • Notes 191
  • Bibliography 211
  • Index 221
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