To the southwest of the Great Mosque of Kilwa was the nine bay Small Domed Mosque, which was built in the mid-fifteenth century and is now only partially standing. Though built two-hundred years later, the Small Domed Mosque mimics the Great Mosque's thirteenth century vault and dome addition. The nine bays are arranged in a square, three bays long and three aisles wide. The central bay is larger than the rest through a lengthening of the middle bays and a widening of the central aisle.
The striking central dome appears wider than it is due to four tiers of stepped cornicing of dressed coral. The interior of the dome is decorated with three concentric circles of inlaid glazed ceramic bowls. Externally the dome is accentuated by a twelve-sided octagonal pillar surmounting it.
Barrel vaults, each decorated with five rows of ceramic bowls and fine cornicing, extend from this central dome north to the mihrab and to its opposite entrance in the south, emphasizing the north-south axis of the mosque. The bays to the east and west are surmounted by fluted hemispherical domes. The smaller corner bays are similarly domed yet lack decoration. The domes and vaults are constructed of lime concrete poured over a frame. The dimensions of this building are roughly 7.5 meters long and wide.
The mosque is entered either through an entrance on its south face opposite the mihrab or through an entrance in the center of the eastern wall. Along the outside of the eastern wall, a side room runs the length of the mosque. Two doors on the eastern external wall of this room provide a stepped access to the mosque compound, elevated about 1.6 meters above the surrounding paved street. From here, one proceeds through to the mosque or south into the forecourt, which fronts the south façade of the mosque. At the western end of this court is an ablution room extending from the square plan and which includes two tanks, which lead to a nearby well and a latrine.
There are many elements in the Small Domed Mosque similar to those of the Great Mosque. The height of the column capitals, each one-third of a cubit or 16 cm high, are the same in both mosques. Hereafter the similarities are proportional. The Small Domed Mosque's columns are of a lesser girth of 55 cm2. The height of the two story columns are appropriately scaled down to 138 centimeters from base to capital and 147 centimeters from capital to cornice at the second tier.
It is postulated that the decoration on the mihrab is from a date later than the fifteenth century. These defining features consist of chamfered grooved capitals flanking the mihrab rising out of adjacent pillars and supporting an arch. From this frame, the mihrab is rebated back from the wall, within which runs a painted floral stringcourse, likely added in the eighteenth century. Interlaced carved coral bosses, bordered with a pattern of an interlocked s-shaped motif, occur on the spandrels to the sides of the arch. Above the mihrab, two bowls are inset into either side of a rectangular plaque. These features represent the development of the early classic mihrab in East Africa.
The Small Domed Mosque and its nearby contemporary, the Jangwani Mosque, are the only two examples of a nine-domed mosque in this area.
Garlake, Peter S. 1966. The Early Islamic Architecture of the East African Coast. London: Oxford University Press. 36, 46-47, 61, 72, 76-77, 80, 83-84.
Chittick, Neville. 1974. Kilwa: An Islamic Trading City on the East African Coast, vol 2. Nairobi: British Institute in Eastern Africa. 161-166.