Between Mosque and House: An Archaeology of Swahili Open Space

  • Author: Jeffrey Fleisher
  • Topic: Buildings, towns and states
  • Country: Tanzania
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

interested in their town walls, houses, mosques and tombs. However
the space between all these architectural features remains largely unstudied,
an object of speculation as to the types of activities that occurred
‘outside.’ By taking seriously the purportedly ‘empty spaces’ of Songo
Mnara, one of the best known medieval town plans on the coast, recent research
has begun to assess how open spaces were made meaningful by town
residents. Three large open spaces at the site were investigated through a
combination of geophysical surveys, geochemical sampling, and excavations.
These include a central open area with hundreds of headstones, tombs,
and a mosque, an ancillary area related to less prominent houses, and a large
preserved open area against the shoreline. Preliminary findings from this
work offer insight into the way that the central open space was related to
public acts of commemoration; evidence from the other spaces offer hints
about industrial production that took place on site, as well as apparent efforts
to preserve and construct ‘empty spaces’ related possibly to religious rituals
and processions. This paper will describe these findings and their implications
in charting a way forward for a more robust archaeology of Swahili
open spaces.

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