Lamu Old Town - History and Facts | History Hit

Lamu Old Town

Lamu, Lamu, Kenya

Lamu Old Town is an excellent example of a Swahili settlement and is one of the oldest towns in Kenya.

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About Lamu Old Town

Lamu Old Town in Kenya is a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned for being one of the oldest towns in Kenya and an extremely well-preserved Swahili settlement. Based on the island of Lamu off the coast of mainland Kenya, Lamu Old Town was once a central trading area dating back to at least the twelfth century.

History of Lamu Old Town

Lamu Old Town is located on the island Lamu on the coast of East Africa some 350km north of Mombasa. Unlike other Swahili settlements which have been abandoned along the East African coast, Lamu has been continuously inhabited for over 700 years.

Developed by the Bantu people, Lamu has maintained many of the original architectural characteristics of the Swahili culture.

Lamu’s ‘Golden Age’ was during its years as an Omani protectorate from the late 17th century to the early 19th century. At this time, it became a centre of poetry, politics, arts and crafts, literature, scholarship, and trade.

From the middle of the 19th century, Lamu was under the political influence of the sultan of Zanzibar. Germany was then granted a protectorate under the sultanate to have a communication centre and base in the town, and from 1890, it came under British colonial rule.

Kenya gained political independence in 1963, and today largely leaves Lamu to govern itself.

Lamu Old Town Today

The town’s layout and architecture is representative of a fusion of both different cultures and time periods, with narrow doors and magnificent stone buildings with curved doors being emblematic of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian, and European building styles. The buildings in Lamu Old Town are constructed in traditional mangrove timber and coral stone.

Among the sites one can visit in Lamu are the Lamu Fort and the Lamu Museum.

Being home to 23 mosques, including the Riyadha Mosque, Lamu is also a site of vital importance to the Muslim faith and hosts several religious celebrations.

A 30 minute boat ride from Lamu will take you to the south eastern corner of Manda Island. Here are the Takwa Ruins, the remains of a thriving 15th and 16th century Swahili trading town which was abandoned in the 17th century.

Getting to Lamu Old Town

The best way to reach Lamu Old Town is to take a flight from Mombasa into Manda Airport, which takes around 40 minutes. From there, take the ferry across to the island.