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The discovery of Tanzania’s ancient ‘lost city’ of Rhapta

The story of Tanzania’s 2000-year-old ‘lost city’ of Rhapta


The story of Tanzania’s 2000-year-old ‘lost city’ of Rhapta still baffles many although not much is known about it.

Since its mystical disappearance about 1,600 years ago, archaeologists now believe that what they have found is part of the ‘lost city’ situated off Tanzania’s coast which was once a Roman business hub for tortoise shells and weapons made of steel in the 1st century. Rhapta was Africa’s first metropolis.

The discovery about Rhapta was made by a scuba-diver, Alan Sutton, while on a helicopter flight above Zanzibar’s Mafia Island – off Tanzania’s Coast – which depicted a mass of what looked like ancient ruins of the ‘lost city’ thereby ending centuries-old speculation on what became of the city.

Sutton took three years to discover the ruins which have every semblance to that of the ancient Rhapta City that now covers a relatively huge area with foundations coated in squared, oblong blocks line up.

To back Sutton’s discovery, archaeologists from the University of Dar es Salaam opined that the ruins sighted could be those of the Rhapta which has been mentioned by an Indian Seaman on Indian Trade, Diogenes.

“Truly the ruins seem ancient—of probably Roman times. It could be the metropolis of Rhapta as reported by Claudia Ptolemy of the 2nd century CE,” Prof, Felix Chami told MailOnline.

Prof Chami further stated that going by Roman documents, it was a no-brainer to make out that the ruins found are similar to those the Romans used to build their market in the city. “Its location is not questionable if one relies on the Roman document.”

To cement Sutton’s discovery, a German explorer visited Mafia Islands in the 1890s and drew a map of the island which helped Sutton in making his discovery on the lost city because he clearly understood the topography of Mafia Island.

Sutton offers that the ruins seem old but they are evidence to a good structural plan for Rhapta.

“It seems very old and to have been extremely well-constructed, in a fashion unlike the architecture of other ruins in Tanzania and doubtless the site will keep archaeologists busy for many years.”

The ruins sit at Rhapta Bay, a name the Romans gave the river flowing through the city thousands of centuries ago.

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