Map of the Swahili coast

Map of the East African coast, showing Swahili settlements. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.

Map of the Kilwa region, showing islands. Click on the thumbnail for a larger version.


Songo Mnara is one of the more prominent Swahili stonetowns, nestled in the Kilwa archipelago on the southern coast of Tanzania. Songo Mnara was a central participant in Indian Ocean commerce during the 15th and 16th centuries AD, facilitating exchanges of goods from the African continent with traders from ports in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and western India. The importance of this site is underscored by its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage site list.

Despite excellent preservation, only cursory recording of architectural features had previously been conducted at the site. Most research in the region had been focused on the more famous and well-known site of Kilwa Kisiwani. Songo Mnara is dominated by the well-preserved remains of more than 40 large domestic room-blocks, five mosques, and numerous tombs. Room blocks wrap around and enclose an open, central area of the site where tombs, a walled cemetery and a small mosque are located. Compared to the 800-year occupation of nearby Kilwa, the relatively short, 200-year occupation of Songo Mnara makes it an ideal candidate to examine household and public spaces from a discrete period in time.

This project seeks to explore the urban space of Songo Mnara, as an example of the structuring of a Swahili stonetown. Fieldwork encompasses a range of different techniques aimed at understanding activities across the site, and includes geophysical survey, excavation, geochemical testing, phytolith and palaeobotanical studies, and analysis of finds such as ceramics, coins, and faunal remains.

Research at Songo Mnara is funded by the National Science Foundation (US) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK). We have also received funds from the Society of Antiquaries of London, the British Institute in Eastern Africa, the Leverhulme Trust and the Social Sciences Research Institute of Rice University.


On the right of this page, you will find two maps, showing the East African coastal region with major Swahili towns marked and showing the Kilwa area, with the islands of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara.

You can also use Google maps to look at the island.
Click here to see a map we created using Google.