The Kasubi Tombs of Uganda

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The burial tombs of the Buganda Kings on Kasubi hill, in Kampala district, in Uganda, are a major spiritual center for the Baganda people where traditional and cultural practices have been preserved. The site occupies almost 30 hectares of hillside, most of which is agricultural land, farmed by traditional methods. At its core on the hilltop is the former palace of the Kabakas or Kings of Buganda, built in 1882 and converted into the royal burial ground in 1884. Sadly, the tombs were completely destroyed by fire in March 2010, just eight years after the site was inscribed on the UNESCO world heritage list. Fortunately, the original burial system of the Kabakas is being maintained and the building's traditional architectural craftsmanship and the required skills are still available that will allow the tombs to be rebuilt.

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The site consist of four royal tombs housing the remains of four successive Kabakas of Buganda, the last of whom was buried as recently as 40 years ago. Each prince and princess who is a descendant of the four Kabakas is also buried there behind the main shrine.

The main tomb building, which is circular and surmounted by a dome, is constructed out of wood, bamboo and thatched roof using a unique construction technique developed by the powerful Buganda Kingdom since the 13th Century. However, since 1938, modern materials such as some concrete columns were introduced, primarily to meet threats of structural failure.

Over the centuries, the tombs suffered badly from rain, drainage problems, and termites. During the last 16 years, the tombs caught fire three times. The first fire broke out in 1998 and burned down one building. It was rebuilt but without a thatch roof for lack of funds. The second fire, the most devastating one, destroyed two huts in 2010. Another fire broke out in July 2013, but details about this incident is scarce.

There is not much to see here at present, since the fire, and it’s unclear when reconstruction will be completed. That does not mean that visitors need to remain away entirely, as they can still glean information from the guides and caretakers.

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These are the burial grounds of Kampala's old kings. The actual shrine is off-limits for non-royal family. Photo credit

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Kasubi Tombs after the fire. Photo credit

Sources: UNESCO / African World Heritage Sites

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