It was day 7 of my 14 day Coast trip, something I like to do every year. I discover new places and sometimes people. This time we contacted a travel agent that was to come up with an itinerary to suit our adventure. This is something that I wouldn’t normally do, but Bountiful safaris really came through. On this day, we set to discover the Gede Ruins.
We were up bright and early (I rarely wake up early especially when I’m on holiday). The plan was to go to Malindi with a stopover at Gede ruins. Packed into a mini van with family and friends, the ride was generally smooth, at one point we were all literally asleep in the car. I can’t recall exactly how long it took us to get to Gede from Mombasa, probably an hour and a half.
Gede ruins are the remains of an ancient Swahili town, located in Gede which is a village that lies 16 km south of Malindi town and approximately 90 km North East of Mombasa. A visit to Gede takes you back to a 12th-century Swahili civilization. Gede was so advanced that it had indoor plumbing and air conditioning. Excavations also reveal the thriving trade with people from all over the world including far flung places such as China. Various items excavated from the ruins can be viewed in the museum on site.
Gede traces its origin in the twelfth century but was rebuilt with in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, evidence of an increasing population from the surrounding villages and towns. The mosques, palaces, houses and other structures demonstrate the abundant growth of wealth that was enjoyed by the townspeople until it reached its peak in the fifteenth century. The reasons as to why the dwellers abandoned this once thriving town is still shrouded in mystery. Studies of the ruins however suggest some of the factors that led to Gede’s eventual demise include the Wazimba raid along the East African coast in 1589, the removal of the Sheikh of Malindi and the Portuguese to Mombasa in 1593 and the ever-present threat of a raid by the Galla, a hostile nomadic ethnic group from Somalia. Archaeologists have also found that the inhabitants deepened the well outside the Great Mosque, an indication that the water table was growing significantly harder to reach, leaving the people without a vital resource.
After narrating the fascinating history of Gede, our guide proceeded to show us the 3 residential zones that defined ones social strata. There is an outer wall and an inner wall. The poor lived outside the outer wall, the middle class lived between the outer and inner walls, while the rich obviously lived within the inner wall.We then proceeded to the tree house, it costs Kshs.50 ($0.5) to go up. The experience was a bit scary (read rickety looking steps) but well worth it. You get to view the ruins from a vantage point. Gede ruins view from the tree house
After walking through the ruins, we finally ended up at the snake park which was interesting as well. There is an on site snake sanctuary, they rescue snakes that wander in the village and rehabilitate them in the forest away from people. I saw 4 spitting cobras, a black mamba, two green mamba, a boom slang, a viper, several pythons, and lot less deadly snakes. The guys at the snake park were very passionate and motivated in protecting the snakes and the surrounding forest habitat. Additionally the ruins being in a forest habitat are teeming with wildlife, I spotting huge Golden Rumped Elephant Shrew, countless Sykes monkeys, Butterflies and many birds including the gorgeous Verreaus Eagle Owls.
A visit to Gede definitely qualifies to be on anyone’s bucket list. Wear some comfortable shoes, carry lots of water (the humidity can be unbearable) and bring your camera! We also had to pay for a guide. There is no standard fee for one, so make use of your negotiation skills. Having a guide is optional; in fact you’re free to walk around the ruins by yourself. However I would recommend getting one as they seem to be very knowledgeable and they really make the place come alive. There is also a restaurant near the museum where you can get refreshments.
These ruins are preserved by the local people and they also benefit from the earnings as well. Not only will you get an experience of a lifetime walking on the same grounds as the original inhabitants but you also get to help the local community. Currently under the care of the National Museums of Kenya, the site has been recognized for its archaeological value and today it is one of the most highly studied relics on the Kenyan Coast. In addition to being a very important archaeological site; Gede is surrounded by indigenous forest which is a sacred site for traditional rituals and sacrifices for the local Miji Kenda community.