Swahili architecture

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Swahili architecture is a term used today to designate a whole range of diverse building traditions practiced or once practiced along the eastern and southeastern coasts of Africa. What is today seen as typically Swahili architecture is still very visible in the thriving urban centers of Mombasa, Lamu and Zanzibar. As archeological evidence has revealed, Swahili coast construction technologies are in many ways an extension of mainland African traditions, although structural elements, such as domes and barrel vaulting clearly connect to Persian Gulf area and South Asia building traditions as well. Exotic ornament and design elements also connected the architecture of the Swahili coast to other Islamic port cities. In fact, many of the classic mansions and palaces of the Swahili coast belonged to wealthy merchants and landowners, who played a key role in the mercantile economy of the Swahili coast. It was not the case, as British archeologists assumed during the colonial period (today some people still believe this outdated information, which is not corroborated by evidence), that Arab or Persian colonizers brought stone architecture and urban civilization to the Swahili coast. Local people--who of course also had overseas connections and relations--developed the Swahili coast built environment. Most importantly, even when a house was made to look like a house across the Indian Ocean it structured local experiences. Swahili architecture exhibits a range of influences and innovations and diverse forms and histories interlock and overlap to create densely layered structures that cannot be broken down into distinct stylistic parts. Many spectacular ruins of the so-called golden age of Swahili architecture may also still be observed near the southern Kenyan port of Malindi in the ruins of Gedi (the lost city of Gede/Gedi).[1]

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Catholic cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar; A door in Lamu; Homes in Malindi

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