By Pedro Alonso
Gedi, Kenya, Jan 26 (EFE).- Deep in the East African rainforest lies a mystery: the ruins of the Lost City of Gedi, an archaeological wonder known as the Machu Picchu of Kenya.
For decades, the Swahili city has bewildered archaeologists and historians alike due to its absence from historical records.
The ruins, however, prove that it was home to an advanced civilization before it was abandoned in the 17th century.
The site straddles a small portion of the Arabuko Sokoke reserve, the largest coastal forest in East Africa.
“It was one of the oldest cities established on the Indian coast. It began (its construction) in the 12th century. It once occupied 45 acres, of which only 12 acres have been excavated,” Hudson Mukoka, a tour guide, tells Efe.
Gedi, which means “precious” in the language of the Oromo people who inhabited the city, is a haven of peace broken only by the sounds of the forest.
The Mijikenda tribe, which currently lives nearby, has long venerated the ruins, which they consider sacred and guarded by The Elders, spirits on the lookout for intruders.
However, Gedi went unnoticed for centuries until British settlers arrived and explorer John Kirk rediscovered the city in 1884.
Excavations didn’t begin until 1948 under the supervision of James Kirkman, a pioneer of Swahili archaeology.
Kirkman faced an almost other-worldly environment: “When I first started to work at Gedi I had the feeling that something or somebody was looking out from behind the walls, neither hostile nor friendly but waiting for what he knew was going to happen”.
The excavations brought to light a sophisticated city built in coral stone with streets laid out at right angles inside two concentric walls: the internal one protected the elite and the external one the entire precinct.
“This is the great palace, which was divided into two zones: a private residence and a public activities area. The king was called sultan,” Mukoka continues.
The city features the remains of eight mosques, including the so-called Great Mosque, where the minbar (pulpit) and the qibla facing Mecca are preserved.
The site also harbors ruins of houses with bathrooms and toilets, ornate funerary pillars and even a sewage system, evidence that Africa was home to advanced communities before the European colonial invasion.
“Visitors say that (the site) looks like Machu Picchu,” the guide adds.
Like Machu Picchu, Gedi contains many enigmas, but the main one puzzling experts is why was it abandoned?
Some historians have suggested a lack of water, a conflict or a devastating disease could have prompted the exodus.
To solve the mystery, Kenyan-American paleontologist Chapurukha Kusimba, from the University of South Florida, excavates the area with the help of National Geographic.
“One of the things we want to find out is if the population of Gede was a victim of the black plague,” Kusimba tells Efe over the phone.