1.         Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara (United Republic of Tanzania) (C 144)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1981

Criteria  (iii)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/144/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1983-2001)
Total amount approved: USD 41,370
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/144/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions


Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/144/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2004

An ICOMOS mission visited the Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins Songo Mnara, in the United Republic of Tanzania, from 23 to 27 February 2004 at the request of the State Party through letter dated 21 May 2003. The purpose of the mission was to assess the state of conservation of Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara National Monuments World Heritage site, undertake a thorough study of the problems facing the site such as beach erosion and its impact on the site; and to review the possibility of, and make the necessary recommendations concerning the inscription of the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger. 


Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara are historic Swahili towns founded on islands off the coast of East Africa in the present day Lindi Region, Kilwa District in the United Republic of Tanzania. The ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani comprise the vestiges of the great mosque, constructed in the 12th century of coral tiles embedded in a core of clay.  There are also remains of the Palace Husuni Kubwa, built between ca. 1310 and 1333, numerous mosques, the Gereza (prison) constructed on the ruins of the Portuguese fortress, and finally an entire urban complex with houses, public squares and burial grounds.


ICOMOS confirms the information provided to the Bureau in 1999 on numerous issues requiring attention, such as the damage caused by sea erosion, collapsing monuments due to lack of maintenance, the problem of zoning or non existent buffer zone, population pressure, non-participation of the community, unclear management systems leading to inactivity and an old legal framework that may require revision, among others.


ICOMOS notes that the population pressure could cause considerable and irreversible damage.  Currently there is a proposition to have a 500-meter buffer zone, however the area in question has already been settled. There is urgent need to explore the possibility of creating a buffer zone or enact by-laws governing new settlements.  ICOMOS further notes that the state of conservation of the property has worsened to such an extent that, unless some form of control is put in place, the whole listed property is likely to become a living thriving town with modern houses.


The erosion currently taking place along the beach at Kilwa Kisiwani is of great concern, posing great danger to the Gereza, as well as to the whole site.  ICOMOS notes the need for urgent attention on Gereza addressing both the erosion threat as well as the collapsing building fabric. There is an urgent need to rehabilitate the building through a conservation action that would involve strengthening the structural integrity, addressing all the cracks and the collapsing roof portions as well as urgent conservation of the doors.


As regards the nomination, which was based only on the archaeology and historical importance, ICOMOS notes that Kilwa Kisiwani has also a living part with a community that impacts on the site physically and even spiritually, which should have been taken into consideration. ICOMOS, therefore, stresses the importance of reviewing the original nomination file to include consideration of the local communities in both tangible and intangible aspects.


The Centre was informed by the Permanent Delegate of the United Republic of Tanzania, through the transmission of an article published in the Guardian newspaper on 27 October 2003, that the French Government had announced a grant worth 95,400 € (US$ 110,000) to the Tanzanian Division of Antiquities in favour of the Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani World Heritage site. This financial assistance is aimed at improving the historical knowledge of the site of Kilwa Kisiwani and strengthening the national research capacity in history, archaeology, sociology, ethnology and culture through training, studies and inventory of existing archives. The site also benefited from a US$ 57,032 grant in 2001 by the Government of Japan to build a jetty allowing residents and visitors to board on ships without having to wade through the water.


Despite this, the State Party, and notably the Antiquities Department, which is responsible for the conservation and protection of the site, seems overwhelmed. There seems to be no proper plans nor any foreseeable resources specifically allocated to carry out the major work required to ensure the safeguarding of the property.


Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM


Decision Adopted: 28 COM 15B.41

The World Heritage Committee, 1. Noting, with serious concern, the continuing deterioration and the serious threats affecting the property of the Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, 2. Considering the importance of the World Heritage property of the Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and Ruins of Songo Mnara, and the need for any programme or project, local or international, to take into account the recommendations included in international documents, particularly the World Heritage Convention and its Operational Guidelines 3. Noting with appreciation the support provided by the Governments of France and Japan to address some of the problems facing this property, 4. Recommends that the State Party put in place a proper management structure and mechanism to protect the property; 5. Decides to inscribe the Runis of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara on the list of the World Heritage in Danger.

Decision Adopted: 28 COM 15C.1

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Following examination of state of conservation reports of properties on the
World Heritage List (WHC-04/28.COM/15B and WHC-04/28.COM/15B Add)
and of proposals for inscription of properties on the World Heritage List
(WHC-04/28.COM/14B Rev),

2. Decides to inscribe the following properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger: