By Maina Kiarie
Gede Ruins is a historical and archaeological Site located between Mombasa and Malindi in Kenya’s Coast province. Gede lies 16kms south of Malindi town and approximately 90km north east of Mombasa.
Gede is a ‘lost’ city lying in the depths of Arabuko Sokoke forest. Nestled in 45 acres of primeval forest, the ruins of Gede reflect the unique architectural style and wealth of many Swahili towns of that period.
It is unclear whether the actual name of the town was Gedi, Gede, or Kilimani. The name Gedi, or more properly Gede, is a Galla word meaning “precious” and is also used as a personal name. It is either the Galla name for the town which they destroyed or the name of the last Galla leader to camp at the site.
Gede was founded in the late 13th or early 14th century, reached its climax in the middle of the 15th century, and was finally abandoned in the early 17th century. The Site was first visited by Sir John Kirk, a British Resident of Zanzibar in 1894. Gede was gazetted as a historical monument in 1927. In 1939, the Public Works Department began cementing together the crumbling walls for the purpose of conservation of the buildings.
In 1948, Gede was declared a National Park, an archaeologist was appointed as Warden and excavations were began, which were continued until 1958. Evidence of life and people in the town has been derived from the excavations carried out between 1948 and 1958. The excavations revealed that the Muslim inhabitants traded with people from all over the world. Some of the findings included beads from Venice, coins and a Ming vase from China, an iron lamp from India, and scissors from Spain.
The ruins of Gedi include many houses, mansions, mosques and elaborate tombs and cemeteries. The excavated ruins of the town include:
- Gedi’s Dated Tomb
- Gedi’s Tomb of the Fluted Pillar
- Several mosques including Gedi’s Great Mosque, Mosque of the Long Conduit, Mosque of the Three Aisles, and Mosque on the Wall.
- Gedi’s Palace
- Gedi’s Annexe
- Several Houses namely: House of the Cowries, House of the Cistern, House of the Scissors, House of the Porcelain Bowl, House of the Paneled Walls, House of the Ivory Box, House of the Iron Lamp, House of the Venetian Bead, House of the Sunken Court, House of the Iron Lamp, House of the Long Court, House on the Wall, House of the Dhow, House of the Double Court, and the House on the West Wall.
In 1969, responsibility for the administration of Gedi was taken over by the Museum Trustees. In the same year Gede museum was opened. In 1970 Gede was gazetted as a national monument.
Research on the site has shown that when Gedi was abandoned in the early 16th century, a temporary reoccupation likely occurred by the nomadic Oromo tribe from Somalia in the late 16th century but they, too, later abandoned the town.
Gede is a place of great mystery, an archaeological puzzle. Despite extensive research and exploration, nobody is really sure what happened to the town of Gede and its people. Part of the reason why the site has remained a mystery is because there are no written records on it.