Bagamoyo Historical Town
The town of Bagamoyo is a home to world class Historical sites and one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites with rich cultural heritage waiting you to explore.
This town was once a most important trading port along the East African Coast and a German East Africa Capital. Bagamoyo is home to many ethnic groups, including the Wakwere, Wazaramo and Wazigua. Different cultures including people of Arab descent coexist in Bagamoyo making the town a peaceful and friendly place for visitors from all over the world.
The town of Bagamoyo was one of the most important trading ports on the East African coast and the penultimate stop of slave and ivory caravans travelling on foot from Lake Tanganyika on their way to Zanzibar. Missionaries active in abolishing the slave trade made Bagamoyo, whose name means ‘bury my heart’ in Kiswahili, a centre for their activities.
Bagamoyo is a quiet village with a few German colonial buildings still standing. In the past, the town of Bagamoyo was one of the most important trading ports on the entire East African coast. Its port was the penultimate stop of slave and ivory caravans that travelled on foot all the way from Lake Tanganyika. Once the caravans reached Bagamoyo, the slaves and ivory were shipped by dhow to Zanzibar, where they were then dispatched all over the world. These days, Bagamoyo is a centre of dhow building in the region and along the Tanzanian Coast.
In the late 1950’s archaeologists unearthed some of the most significant stone age finds ever identified. Most of these finds were tools, estimated to be between 60 000 and 100 000 years old. They also found fossilized bones of mammals; an extinct hippopotamus and something similar to the modern day giraffe but with a shorter neck.
There is evidence which shows that the area around the Isimila site was a small lake. This would have been a perfect hunting ground for hominids who lived there between 300 000 to 600 000 years ago. The tools found there confirm this theory. Looking at the site today you might be able to imagine how the land was eroded from a lake to a large canyon. Harder rock types more resistant to erosion has remained, leaving thin rock towers as high as 30m.
There is also a school, which dates from the late 19th century and was the first multiracial school in what is now Tanzania. On the beach is the German customs house (1895); Bagamoyo’s port, where you can watch boat builders at work; and a busy fish market (on the site of the old slave market), with lively auctions most afternoons. Northwest of here are several small streets lined with carved doors similar to those found elsewhere along the coast. Further south is the mid-19th-century Old Fort.
The ridiculously steep fee levied to walk around the old town (required if you want to take photos or enter any of the buildings) is payable at the Antiquities Branch Office at the Old Fort, where you can also get a guide.
About 2km northwest of town and reached via a long, mango-tree-shaded avenue is the Catholic mission and museum, one of Bagamoyo’s highlights, with well-labelled displays from Bagamoyo’s heyday. In the same compound is the chapel where Livingstone’s body was laid before being taken to Zanzibar Town en route to Westminster Abbey. The mission dates from the 1868 establishment of Freedom Village and is the oldest in Tanzania.
Caravan Serai Museum
This undistinguished museum has a small display documenting the slave trade. It’s at the town entrance, just past and diagonally opposite CRDB bank. More interesting than the present museum is the site at which it is built, which was formerly the starting point for slave and trade caravans to the interior.
The site is easily accessible from Iringa and the guides are located at the museum itself. It makes a good half day trip, but try to get there in the early morning – when the sun comes out the canyon it can get unbearably hot. The tour should take about three hours. There is a little picnic area and toilets are found at the museum.