Malindi (originally referred to as ‘Melinde’), is a town in Kilifi County, Kenya. According to a Kurdish geographer and historian, Abu al-Fida (1273-1331), Malindi is situated to the south of the mouth of Galana River. It was founded between the 13th and 14th centuries. The coming of the Arabs in the 13th century led to the emergence of an Arab-African culture as the visitors mingled with the local people. By the end of the 13th century, many permanent stone settlements had been built, city-states emerged and it was then that Malindi was founded as a town.
Malindi had become an important Swahili settlement by the 14th century and was rivaled by Mombasa over the control of trade in this part of East Africa during the 14th and 15th centuries. In 1414, the town was visited by the fleet of the Chinese explorer, Zheng He, and Malindi’s then ruler sent a personal envoy with a giraffe, oryx and a zebra as a present to China.
In April 1498, Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer, set foot in Malindi to sign a trade agreement and hire a guide for the voyage to India. The Sultan of Malindi established a friendly relationship with him and it is in the same year that the Vasco da Gama Pillar (which stands to date), was erected in the town. Malindi became prosperous in the same year through exporting ivory and agricultural products such as coconuts and rice. The population at this time consisted of African Arabs (the ruling class), Swahili Africans and Indian traders.
The Portuguese established a trading post in Malindi which served as a rest stop on the way to and from India in 1499. In1509, they established a factory that worked until 1512 when it was abandoned. However, Malindi remained the center of Portuguese activity until 1593 when they moved their main base to Mombasa. The Portuguese relocation to Mombasa was the beginning of the downfall of Malindi – the town gradually declined until it almost disappeared by the end of the 17th century.
In 1845, Ludwig Krapf visited the town and found it uninhabited and overgrown with vegetation. Sultan Majid of Zanzibar conquered Malindi in 1861 and the town served as a center of ivory and the slave trade until the end of the 19th century. In 1890, Malindi came under British administration that abolished both slavery and the slave trade. A notable decline in agricultural production was observed as a result of this abolishment.
Malindi was officially made a town in 1903. Trade in the town significantly flourished between the end of World War I and 1925, when a famine occurred. Europeans started to return to Malindi in the 1930s and bought lands from the Arabs. In 1932, the Europeans started establishing hotels in the town. Among the first hotels that were built during this period are Blue Brady’s Palm Beach Hotel, Lawfords Hotel (built by a European commander, Lawford, in 1934), Sinbad Hotel and Eden Roc. These hotels were the foundation of the now booming tourism industry in Malindi town.
During World War II, Malindi was bombed by the Italians on 24th October 1940. Allied troops were stationed in the town after the bombing until the end of the war. After World War II, Malindi began developing into a resort.