The Portuguese Destruction Of Kilwa

How the Ancient City of Kilwa was conquered and destroyed by the Portuguese in 1505 which ended the Swahili Coast East African Trade

Kilwa was a great Pre-Colonial African City that arose out of the Swahili Coast Trade and it was conquered and destroyed by Portugal in 1505.

Before the destruction of Kilwa, it was once the most important and famous of all the Swahili Coast Trading Cities on the coast of modern Tanzania. 

The destruction of Kilwa also led to the decline in the Swahili Coast Trade.

Kilwa’s fame had spread around the world as visitors described what they saw in Kilwa as as a scene of remarkable and unique splendour.

In about the year 1200 AD, Kilwa was a successful Trading City dominating the Swahili Coast Trade, regarded as place of comfort and urban splendour.

Its Islamic Royal Palace was one of the high points of civilized development, promoted and sustained solely by Swahili Coast Trading networks. 

Founded in the 12th century, the Royal Palace Mosque of Kilwa was also enlarged in the 15th Century with generous donations from Kilwa Citizens who spent lots of gold on improvements and did not suspect that their prized Kilwa would soon be conquered and destroyed by Portugal.

In the year 1498, an event took place which led not only to the destruction of Kilwa, but also to the destruction of the Swahili Indian Ocean Trading network along the East African Coast.

In that year for the first time in history, 3 ships owned by Portugal under the command of Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Indian Ocean.

When the expedition reached Portugal, Vasco da Gama reported his discovery of Kilwa and the Swahili Coast Trade along the Indian Ocean.

As a result, Portugal began to make plans to conquer and destroy the City of Kilwa in order to take control of the lucrative Swahili Coast Trade.

Seven years later, Portugal sent a much larger fleet of Ships to Kilwa under the command of Admiral del Maida who was accompanied by Soldiers, Calvary and Artillery in order to carry out the mission of conquering and destroying Kilwa in order to claim Kilwa and the Swahili Coast Trade for Portugal.

At dawn on Thursday 24 July 1505, the Portuguese army stormed Kilwa’s shoreline, heading straight to the Royal Palace, and killing everyone who did not immediately surrender. 

After subduing Kilwa, the Portuguese Army put down the Holy Cross, then Admiral dal Maida prayed and then the Portuguese began looting and plundering all the merchandise and provisions they could find in Kilwa.

The sack of Kilwa by Portugal in 1505 marked a turning point in the history of the whole East African Coast. After Portugal, the Swahili Coast Trade was siezed by the Dutch, then the English and finally the French when they took control of the entire Swahili Coast Indian Ocean Trade. 

The old Swahili Coast Cities which had depended on the Swahili Coast Trade formerly dominated by Kilwa fell into decay, as Africa now had to suffer a long period of destructive conflict and confrontation begun by the outside world.

Sadly this process would continue until the old splendours of the African past were all but forgotten.