Lamu Old Town

World Monuments Watch
Lamu, Kenya

2014 World Monuments Watch

Lamu Old Town is located on an archipelago off the coast of Kenya in the Indian Ocean. Once an important trading center in Islamic coastal East Africa, the town dates to the twelfth century and is the cradle of Swahili culture and an important religious center. The only cultural landscape in Kenya included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Lamu contains several historic sites including the German Post Office, the Lamu Museum, housed in an old Swahili warehouse, and the Lamu Fort.

The buildings of the town—a fusion of African, Arabic, Indian, and Persian styles—are organized around narrow winding streets. Traditional techniques and local resources including coral, lime, and mangrove poles were used to shape the historic fabric of the city. These same materials are still used to repair buildings and construct new ones. Many buildings are distinguished by carved wooden doors and some are decorated with wall paintings, sculptural plasterwork, or rare and special objects brought to Lamu from various places along the trade routes.

Lamu is threatened by uncontrolled development for an anticipated increase of tourism to the city. Proposed construction includes a port, a railway line, airports, major highways, an oil refinery, an oil pipeline, and tourist resorts, all of which may have an impact on the cultural integrity of the town. Lamu was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch in order to raise local and international awareness about its significant cultural heritage and open up the dialogue about the cost of rapid economic development.

Watch Day

Watch Day at Lamu Old Town, held in April 2014,  consisted of a week-long series of events designed to increase awareness of the invaluable sites throughout the town and advocate for their protection. Activities included site clean-ups, an exhibition, a treasure hunt, traditional entertainment, and a youth conservation forum.

Last updated: January 2017.

Join us in safeguarding significant places.