Gedi lies on the coastal region of Kenya, 94 km north of Mombasa town, another historic town. Gedi was a small town built entirely from rocks and stones, which was inhabited by Swahili people of East Africa.
This historic town date back from the 15th century, and through careful preservation most of the original foundations can still be seen today. In 1927, the Gedi historic town, which occupy an area of 44 hectares of land, were declared a historic monument and much excavation and preservation work carried out such that large areas of this ancient town are now revealed, including the pillar tombs, the palace and a great mosque.
It is not quite clear why the town was eventually deserted. Several theories have been put across:
1. One of the theories is that it was overcome by an army from Mombasa on its way to attack Malindi around 1530 AD.
2. Another theory suggests that the Galla people who were raiding southwards around 1600 AD made life unbearable.
3. It is also theorized that lack of water (drying of the wells) except the one which was outside the walls contributed to its abandonment.Walls
The inner and outer walls were constructed similarly with the outer wall measuring nine feet high and 18 inches thick, which was also coated in plaster. The outer wall is believed to have been constructed during the fifteenth century.
The construction of the inner wall has been attributed to the Portuguese presence along the coast in the sixteenth century, whilst the presence of gun ports has been used to infer that the walls were not constructed earlier. However, the practicality of the walls as defensive fortification is unclear, since according to Kirkman the walls and gates surrounding the town have no significant strength, which seems to conform to a proposal that the walls and the layout of buildings were used to maintain social barriers.Although the inner wall has a more obvious defensive function and despite the absence of gun ports and the questionable strength of the outer wall, it has nonetheless been credited as being a fortification.Mosques
At Gedi, two of the mosques have been dubbed "Great Mosques." The mosque traditionally known as the Great Mosque is a rectangular building located within the inner wall, which was built during the fifteenth century.The Great Mosque has three entrances and three rows of pillars in the central room supporting the roof.
Above one of the entrances is a relief of a spear point flanked by a shield on its spandrels, while on the east entrance the architrave is engraved with a herringbone pattern. The structure also has one of the deepest foundations, with its 21 inch wide walls extending four feet into the subsoil.
The second Great Mosque resided in an older portion of the city, which was inhabited from the eleventh century and located to the north of the walled city. The structure that is standing was constructed in the fourteenth century on top of two earlier mosques from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.The mosque measures 26 metres (85 feet) in length along its north-south orientation.Tombs
The pillar tombs at Gedi, which consist of masonry based structures topped with a pillar or column, are part of an architectural style of the medieval Swahili Coastal settlements. A common feature on the pillar tombs at Gedi are decorative recessed panels. Although there are four large pillar tombs at Gedi, the "dated tomb," located within the inner wall, stands out from the rest since it has on Arabic inscription with the date A.D 802 (A.D. 1399)Houses
The surviving residential buildings at Gedi are all located within the inner wall and are representative of the living conditions of the elite members of Gedi society, since the majority of the population lived in the mud thatched dwellings outside the city's core. The four largest houses include the House on the Wall, the House on the West Wall, the House of the Dhow, and the Large House.
A cluster of smaller houses adjacent to the palace or Sheiks residence includes the House of the Chinese Cash, the House of the Porcelain Bowl, the House of the Cistern, the House of the Two Rooms, the House of the Paneled Walls, the House of the Scissors, the House of the Venetian Bead, the House of the Sunken Court, the House of the Cowries, the House of the Iron Lamp, the House of the Iron Box, and the House of the Well.
Although the houses at Gedi vary in size, their number of rooms, and their layout, the basic house at the site is a three-room structure, which usually contained a forecourt and domestic court. With the three-room layout, there was usually a long main room with two storage and sleeping quarters towards the back of the house. One of the back rooms usually had a storage compartment near the roof with access through a trapdoor. Latrines
Usually located toward the back of the main room, were also present in many of the houses, while wells were present in the courtyards of some of the houses.
One of the oldest stone houses dates to the fourteenth century and has a long narrow sunken court, which contrasts the wider and deeper courts found in houses constructed during the fifteenth century. The entrances of houses have a greater deal of variability in the configuration of their passageways, since many of the houses were highly concentrated and laid out to maximize the use of available space.Palace
The palace, which housed the city's sheikh, had a large central room with two anterooms, each containing its own courtyard. A series of residential rooms were accessible from the main hall. There were also two additional courts, the audience court and the reception court, which were accessed through different gates.Conservation and administration
Gedi was made a historic monument in 1927. The site was declared a protected monument in 1929, after looters began removing Chinese porcelain inset as architectural decoration. In 1939, the Kenya Public Works Department began restoring structures that were at the greatest risk of collapse. Further site restoration, primarily clearing vegetation overgrowth, was conducted in 1948–1959 by James Kirkman, who was appointed warden of the site after Gedi and the surrounding forest was declared a national park in 1948.