Tanzania has a long history of human habitation stretching back to our most distant ancestors. The so-called ‘Bantu migrations’, occurring between 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, brought agricul

Historical Sites in Tanzania

Tanzania has a long history of human habitation stretching back to our most distant ancestors. The so-called ‘Bantu migrations’, occurring between 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, brought agricultural and pastoral knowledge to the area as competing groups spread over the country in search of fertile soil and plentiful grazing for their herds.

European missionaries and explorers mapped the interior of the country by following well-worn caravan routes, including Burton and Speke who in 1857 journeyed to find the source of the Nile. Traditional ways of life remained largely intact until the arrival of German colonisers in the late 19th century.

On the , Indian Ocean trade began as early as 400BCE between Greece and Azania, as the area was commonly known. Around the 4th century AD, coastal towns and trading settlements attracted Bantu-speaking peoples from the African hinterland. They settled around mercantile areas and often facilitated trading with the Arabs
and Persians, who bartered for slaves, gold,
ivory, and spices, sailing north with the
monsoon wind.

Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the settlements of Kilwa Kisiwani and the reached their peak, with a highly cosmopolitan population of Indian, Arab and African merchants trading in luxury goods that reached as far as China. The completion of Portuguese domination in 1525 meant that trade, for a short time, was lessened, but rival Omani Arab influences soon took control of the caravan routes and regained complete control of the islands, even going so far as to make Zanzibar the capital of Oman in the 1840s.

In the late 19th century, British influence in the Zanzibar Archipelago, in contrast to German influence on the Tanzanian mainland, slowly suppressed the slave trade and brought the area under the influence of the Empire. Local rebellions in German East Africa, most notably the Maji Maji rebellion from 1905 to 1907, slowly weakened the coloniser’s grip on the nation and at the end of the First World War Germany ceded Tanganyika to English administration. Under the leadership of Julius Nyerere of TANU, popularly referred to as Mwalimu, or ‘teacher,’ Tanganyika achieved full independence in 1962. Meanwhile, a violent revolution in Zanzibar ousted the Omani sultancy and established a one-party state under the Afro-Shirazi Party in 1963. A year later, the United Republic of Tanzania was formed, unifying the Tanganyika mainland with the semi-autonomous islands of the Zanzibar Archipelago, and merging TANU and the ASP to form CCM, Chama cha Mapinduzi, the Party of the Revolution which rules Tanzania to the present day.


Mysterious ruins of complex irrigation systems span the area around Engaruka, the remnants of a highly developed but unknown society that inhabited the area at least 500 years ago – and then vanished without a trace.


The island of Kilwa Kisiwani and the nearby ruins of Songo Mnara are among the most important remnants of Swahili civilization on the coast. The area became the centre point of Swahili civilisation in the 13th century, when it controlled the gold trade with Sofala, a distant settlement in Mozambique. After a brief decline under the rule of the Portuguese, Kilwa once again became a centre of Swahili trade in the 18th century, when slaves were shipped from its port to the islands of Comoros, Mauritius and Reunion.


The port town of Lindi, in south-western Tanzania, was the final stop for slave caravans from Lake Nyasa during the heyday of the Zanzibari sultans. In 1909, a team of German palaeontologists unearthed the remains of several dinosaur bones in Tendanguru, including the species Brachiosaurus brancai, the largest discovered dinosaur in the world.


Another central port in the Swahili Coast’s network of Indian Ocean trade, in the 15th century Mikindani’s reach extended as far as the African hinterlands of the Congo and Zambia. The area became a centre of German colonial administration in the 1880s and a chief exporter of sisal, coconuts, and slaves.


Humans and their distant ancestors have been part of Ngorongoro’s landscape for millions of years. The earliest signs of mankind in the Conservation Area are at Laetoli, where hominid footprints are preserved in volcanic rock 3.6 million years old. The story continues at Olduvai Gorge, a river canyon cut 100 m deep through the volcanic soil of the Serengeti Plains. Buried in the layers are the remains of animals and hominids that lived and died around a shallow lake amid grassy plains and woodlands. These remains date from two million years ago. Visitors can learn more details of this fascinating story by visiting the site, where guides give a fascinating on-site interpretation of the gorge.


The most obvious historical site in Zanzibar is Stone Town, a World Heritage Site and the oldest continuously inhabited city in East Africa, but Zanzibar has much more to offer visitors. From the ruins of numerous palaces stemming from the Omani sultancy, ancient mosques (notably the mosque at Kizimkazi which contains the oldest known Swahili text), Persian bathhouses, and colonial buildings (in the Indian Colonial style), Zanzibar is an absolute treasure trove for the historically inclined.


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