News Column

US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation Supports Cultural Heritage at Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, Tanzania

August 20, 2014



DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Aug. 20 -- The U.S. Embassy issued the following news release:

Along with local dignitaries and representatives from the Ministry for Natural Resources & Tourism, U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Marissa Maurer this week celebrated the successful conclusion of the project to conserve ancient ruins at the Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara World Heritage Site. This project was implemented in partnership with the Tanzanian government's Antiquities Division and the World Monuments Fund, with funding from the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation. The project has preserved one of Tanzania's most important heritage sites and created significant economic benefits for the people of Kilwa.

The heritage site of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara is one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tanzania. In June 2014, in recognition of the successful conservation work undertaken by the Antiquities Division and World Monuments Fund, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee voted to remove Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara from the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger. This international recognition is testimony of the tremendous efforts made towards preserving the site, as well as the generosity of the American people in funding conservation efforts in Tanzania.

The islands of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara, which together make up the Kilwa Kisiwani World Heritage Site, are among the most important heritage sites in East Africa, with standing ruins dating back more than 800 years, and has the potential to become one of the foremost heritage destinations in Tanzania. The overarching objective of the project is to create a framework for balanced development, in which competing demands of tourism, economic development, social change and heritage preservation are balanced for the benefit of all, ensuring the survival of the monument for future generations.

The project commenced in September 2011, implemented by the Antiquities Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism and the World Monuments Fund. From the beginning, the project team sought to link preservation efforts to economic benefit, especially in the minds of the islands' residents. The World Monuments Fund met with village elders to agree a framework for employment, ensuring that the maximum number of local people were included in the workforce especially women. A total of 600 Kilwa residents have been employed during the course of the project.

The ancient ruins on Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara are exceptional. On Kilwa Kisiwani, the building known as Husuni Kubwa (or 'large house'), which was built sometime between 1320 and 1333, and is the earliest and by far the largest and most sophisticated surviving major building south of Somalia close by is the Great Mosque, which was founded in the 11th century, and by the 14th century was the largest and most sophisticated mosque south of the Sahara. Songo Mnara contains the remains of 40 stone houses dating from the 14th to 16th century, some of which are better preserved and more archaeologically intact than any comparable domestic building in East Africa. The Portuguese fort is one of few remaining Portuguese defensive structures in the region.

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