Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness~ Frank Gehry.
Nestled in a tranquil, richly-green and forested area, the Gedi Ruins National Monument is what I would call timeless.
As promised, here is Part 2 of Watamu’s Top 7 Things to Do! 🙂 And Today we step way, way back in time to explore the Abandoned City of Gedi… In case you missed it… you can read Part One of the Series: ‘Old is Gold’ >> Here
Gedi Ruins National Monument
Gede, which means “precious” or ‘thamani‘ in Swahili, dates back to the early 13th Century.
Initially, Gedi was called Kilimani, but the Oromo, a Nomadic community, changed it to “Gede”. They were drawn by the availability of green pastures and water for their livestock. It is the Swahili who later corrupted the name to Gedi.
It is located about 20 km south of Malindi, and a short distance from Watamu Beach. It is easily accessible from the road, and you can get there via a Tuk-tuk, or a Matatu.
When we arrived at the site, I was not certain what to expect from Gedi Ruins. But if the serene atmosphere was anything to go by, I knew it was going to be amazing….
My ‘amazement’ came a few minutes into it and rather unexpectedly! I was taking a picture of this cute mother peeling a banana with her baby curled around her waist…
The next thing I knew, this cheeky guy perched himself on my shoulder! I screamed in fright, while my family members burst out laughing…. We all became friends soon enough though 😀
My brothers just rolled with it, as if it were the most normal thing in the world:)
Tip: Carry bananas to feed the monkeys; they are friendly and not all aggressive.
We met our nice guide Badi Khamisi who gave us a lovely guided tour of Gedi Ruins. A guided tour of the entire place costs Kshs. 500, which I would highly recommend.
He was such wealth of information, with great details on the History of Gedi. You could hear his love and pride for Gedi, echoed in his voice.
Khamisi sat us down for a while, as he explained the history of Gedi… I felt as though I was transported back to that G.H.C class with my teacher, Mr. Wambugu …
Remember when Geography, History and Civics was still one subject? 😀
It would be difficult to cover the history of the Gedi ruins in just one blog post… This is better experienced in person..
Hint to visit 🙂 😉
A City Ahead Of Its Time
One of the most remarkable things about Gedi, is that many of the city’s structures were quite advanced for their time.
They crushed coral stones from the ocean, to create a powdered mixture that was used as cement. Many of these stone structures stand to date, and still look rather stable.
The ‘Gede Great Mosque’ is an example…
They roofs were made of “makuti” or coconut palm leaves, which is characteristic of most coastal households.
This structure within the mosque acted as a ‘microphone’. The Imam would stand there and his voice would be amplified to the rest of the city.
The people of Gedi dug deep water holes, like the public water hole right outside the mosque. It was impressive to learn that they had a filtering system as early as the 15th Century. They would recycle water, after people had used it to wash their hands, head and feet.
Apparently, digging of deep wells interfered with the water causing it to turn salty. The Oromo abandoned Gedi in search of fresh-water.
Additionally, is said that there was deadly plague in the area that contributed to its abandonment in the 17th Century.
Gedi was populated with both the rich and the poor, with about 2,000 people. The rich lived luxuriously, with their own private water wells, bathrooms and toilets. Interestingly, some even had indoor swimming pools. The poor had to share public amenities.
The city was divided into two by an inner and outer wall. Rich affluent people lived within the inner wall, while the poor lived on the outside.
Recent Developments in Gedi
Over time, trees have grown around the ancient structures giving it a picturesque finish. You will find baobab trees, for instance, aging between 300-350 years, some up to 1,500 years old. I was completely mesmerized by how green and wild the place is. I would call it a photographer’s “paradise”.
Most recently, a tree house has been constructed for visitors who would like to get a bird’s eye view.
In the year 2000, a museum was put up. You will find some items that were collected from the ruins, while some represent the Swahili culture.
Kipepeo (Swahili for butterfly) is a local initiative to conserve the environment, while also creating sustainable livelihoods for the community. It is in the same compound as the Gedi ruins.
The community is engaged in production of natural animal products like butterfly and moth pupae, silk and honey, from the nearby Arabuko Sokoke Forest. These products are sold and marketed at Kipepeo.
There are little fragile butterflies everywhere, and you have to be careful not to step on them.
There are butterflies on display to show various types and species.
Gedi Travel Tips:
- Put on comfortable walking shoes as you will be on your feet most of the time
- Carry some water and snacks
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing, plus a hat, as the sun gets hot
- Buy bananas to feed the monkeys-they will appreciate you for it. 🙂 Try to stay calm when they approach- they are super friendly
- It pays to have the guided tour at only Kshs.500 for the group. The guided tour is excellent, as the guide will furnish you with a detailed historical account of the ruins
- It is quite affordable as Kenyan residents pay only Kshs. 100 per person, while non-residents pay Kshs. 200 for entry to each place
- There is a Snake park in the same venue, if you are interested
It is pretty special to see structures that have been around for centuries. I would certainly recommend a visit to Gedi Ruins, as nothing beats first-hand experience. 🙂
Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world~Gustave Flaubert
Have you been to the Gedi Ruins? I look forward to your comments and feedback, on the Comments’ Section below. 😉
Stay Inspired Always 🙂
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: MARION MITHAMO
CURATED BY: WANJIKU THUO