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

The discovery of Tanzania’s ancient ‘lost city’ of Rhapta
Written by See Africa Today

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

Ptolemy’s Geography that was Africa’s first metropolis notes that Rhapta was a focal business hub. Its business trade in steel and tortoise shells made it a city of opulence and great wealth at the time.

The discovery about Rhapta was made by a  diver, Alan Sutton. He was on a helicopter flight above Zanzibar’s Mafia Island – off Tanzania’s Coast. This was in 2013. Before he took a chopper ride, the low tides exposed the strangeness of what was beneath the water.

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

Lost city of Rhapta. {Photo by IBTimesUK]

Upon a closer look, Sutton found a mass of what looked like ancient ruins of the ‘lost city. This is what brought to an end centuries-old speculation on what became of the ancient city of Rhapta.

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.

A diver by passion and profession, Stutton managed to traverse through the wrecks beneath the Indian Ocean and made a huge discovery. At his last attempt in three years, he managed to get the exact location of the remains of the ruined city.

He found artefacts mainly found at Rhapta and other structures giving credence to the theory of a lost city.  Stutton found walled structures well connected to their forts. He also found a string of cultural artefacts dating centuries back. All this, he says, are a pointer of what the city going.

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.”

Prof Chami added that his thoughts were the Portuguese built on top of other people’s ruins from what he has seen so far.

In the past years, Prof Chami based in Dar es Salaam notes that there have been discoveries of underwater houses.

According to the Jojo community which he works with, this is a pointer to Portuguese ancestors works in sinking cities.

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.

About the author

See Africa Today

Pharis Kinyua is the editor of See Africa Today. With over seven years of experience in digital media, he has a soft spot for African tours and travel. His drive is to tell the rest of the world what Africa offers, the best accommodation facilities, national parks, culture, shopping malls and best airline deals to travel to Africa

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