Tanzania taps Rhapta ruins for Unesco sites recognition

Tuesday November 09 2021
Rhapta ruins

Lost city of Roman emporion Rhapta, lies buried in the Rufiji Delta. PHOTO | COURTESY


Tanzania has applied to have the Rhapta ruins recognised as a World Heritage Site.

Prof Hamisi Malebo, the executive secretary of Tanzania National Commission said they had requested Unesco to recognise the submerged ruins of the ancient lost city, recently discovered by archeologists who believe it to be the ancient lost city of Rhapta. The installation in Tanzania’s southern coast are 10 km off Mafia Island.

If Unesco approves the request, Tanzania will have eight World Heritage Sites. Others are Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Mount Kilimanjaro, Ruins of Kilwa and Songo Mnara, Kondoa Rock Art site, Selous Game Reserve and Stone Town in Zanzibar.

There is hardly any written history of the lost city of Rhapta, estimated to be 2,000 years old. It is believed to have been a coastal Roman emporion and got buried somewhere in the Rufiji Delta.

Azania settlement

The city has been mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, written in 50 AD, which termed it the most southerly trading settlement of Azania. Several different locations have been suggested, including Msasani, Kisuyu and Mafia Island.


This part of the country was once a Roman business hub for tortoise shells and weapons made of steel in the 1st century and was Africa’s first metropolis.

Centuries of speculation on the exact location of the Rhapta ruins were laid to rest when British scuba-diver Alan Sutton spotted an unusually shaped formation in the water while flying in a helicopter off the coast over the Mafia Island in July 2016.

On further exploration he found artefacts and walled structures connected to fort formations and got the exact location of the remains of the ruins.