In 1882, Kabaka Mutesa relocated his palace to Nabulagala Hill, which was the capital of his father Suuna II some 30 years earlier, and renamed it at his birthplace-Kasubi Hill. Mutesa constructed a Hilltop palace called Muzibu Azala Mpanga, literally translating to “A king is born of a King” and this is where he died in 1884 after a long illness. As a custom, a palace is abandoned by Kings when one dies there, so his successor Kabaka Mwanga established a new capital/palace at Mengo Hill. The deceased king was buried at his palace and that was the birth of Kasubi Royal Tombs.
When Kabaka Mwanga died, he was also buried at the Kasubi hill in 1910, 7 years after his death in exile. The Kasubi Royal Tombs also houses the tomb of Daudi Chwa II the successor of Kabaka Mwanga. Daudi Chwa II reigned from 1897to 1939 and Edward Mutesa II who died in exile and his body was returned in 1971 was also laid to rest at the tombs. The Kasubi tombs were housed in the original palace built by Kabaka Mutesa in a fantastic dome structure made of poles and reed thatched and with a concreted floor until 2010.
The architecture of the tomb’s dome was listed among the 12 most innovative, iconic, and historic buildings in Africa by BBC. The interior of the dome is designed to replicate a sacred forest and is topped with 52 circular rings that represent each of the 52 clans of Buganda.
The Kasubi Tombs are not just burial grounds for the four (4) former kings of Buganda, but also other members of the Buganda Royal Family. It is an important spiritual, historical, and political site for the Baganda, and in December 2001, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site one of the only 3 in Uganda and described as a remarkable building in the entire Sub-Saharan Africa Region.
The Kasubi Tombs, sit on a 26-hectare piece of land and on one of Kampala city’s main hills of the 7 that is 5km northwest of the city center. It is a major spiritual center for the Baganda and rituals are performed here, related to culture. The Muzibu Azala Mpanga, is the main tomb building and is a masterpiece of this ensemble. Four tombs lie in here.
On March 16th, 2010, the Kasubi Royal Tombs were destroyed by fire for causes still unknown. From then the remaining arching framework remained under a patchwork covered by tarpaulins until 2013 when the reconstruction program started. The reconstruction was delayed but it is now taking shape and the site office has been well equipped and new facilities will be added around.
Most of the collectibles (Royal artifacts) that were inside the tombs like the portraits of the kings, traditional musical instruments, weapons, shields, fetishes, a stuffed leopard that was kept by King Mutesa I as a pet, and the gifts that were gifted to the King by Queen Victoria were destroyed in the fire.
The tombs are maintained by the wives of the various kings or female descendants of their long-deceased wives, some of who live on the property. Many of the kings’ wives, sisters, and also other females of the royal family are also buried here, though not in the main palace. The tombs are entered via a traditional reception known as “bujjabukula” tended by a chief gateman with the title Mulamba who customarily dresses in a brilliant maroon bark cloth robe.
Getting to the tombs.
From the city center, follow the Makerere Hill Road west from Wandegeya crossroads (using the road near Makerere University main gate) to Nakulabye Roundabout then drive about 2kmm to Kasubi Market to join Kimera Road where the tombs are signposted to the left about 500m on the Masiro Road. A taxi (matatu) or Boda boda (motorcycle taxi) can get you there.