Gedi Ruins – Swahili History and Adorable Monkeys

Just off the coast road, amidst a dusty landscape under a sweltering sun, you find the most complete historical excavations in Kenya – the ruins of Gedi.

Part of the Gedi Ruins, Kenya.Also spelled ‘Gede’ or known by its ancient name ‘Kilimani’ just to confuse the tourists(!), these ruins are the remains of a wealthy city inhabited by the Swahili people between the 12th and 16th centuries.

A Guide to Gedi?

There are a few information boards (in English) throughout the site, but hiring a guide gives you a much better tour and, of course, the opportunity to ask questions (the boards don’t do a lot of talking!). If you’re feeling confident, be stubborn. They’ll try to give you the next available ‘official’ guide. They know their stuff but they’re notorious for selling you the ‘poverty story’ and putting on the pressure for a donation to the local school. However, inside the gates you’ll find the interns. They’re unpaid so you’re helping them a lot if you throw your shillings their way. My guide for the tour was Joy, and I was not once asked for money. I gave her 500/ when I departed, in addition to the 500/ entry fee (total approx $10)

A tomb - part of the ruins of Gedi, KenyaThe Ruins of Gedi

The ruins are fascinating, especially if you’re a history lover like me. The city was double walled. The inner city was populated by the wealthy, including the King. The outer city was for ‘common’ people. It was a very prosperous city, with a lot of trade coming from across the Indian Ocean, particularly glass, Chinese porcelain, and precious metals. Only a small proportion of the site has been excavated but it’s large and pretty impressive.
Everything is very literally named. For example the house of the scissors where they found a pair of scissors during excavation. And the tomb of the fluted pillar – a tomb with a fluted pillar!

Gedi, as every city, needed water. There are many excavated wells around the site, outside mosques and important houses. The theory of the city’s abandonment is that the wells dried up. As the ocean retreated, and Gedi found itself further from the coast, the water level in the wells dropped until there simply wasn’t any water available.

The treehouse at the Gedi Ruins - closed for renovation March 2016The Extra Bits

There’s a treehouse constructed on the site. It’s currently closed for renovations but, when it reopens, I imagine the views will be impressive.

There’s also a small museum on the site that’s well worth a visit. Aside from the well labelled and well presented artefacts, it’s worth entering if only to take advantage of the shade and the ceiling fans! ¬†A break from the intensity of the sun on your head can be something of a relief.

A guenon monkey, mid jump, at the Gedi Ruins, Kenya.The Monkeys of Gedi

If animals are your thing, you’ll enjoy the monkeys who populate the site. The signs forbid you to feed them but I was actively encouraged to. These little guys can jump! ¬†Seriously, from the ground to my shoulder in one jump.

Very cute but watch your possessions – they’re miniature thieves. Keep your camera attached to you (around your neck or wrist) because they WILL try to run off with it. The last thing you want is your valuable camera, and arguably even more valuable memory card, disappearing up the nearest tree!

A good way to spend an hour, although I do wish I’d worn a hat!


Guenon Monkey enjoying a Banana My Little Friend!

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