Mount Kilimanjaro lies on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, just south of the Equator. To the west lies the Great African Rift Valley, created by tremendous tectonic forces which also gave birth to a string of other volcanoes. One of these, Mount Kenya was originally much higher than Mount Kilimanjaro.
The three summits of Mount Kilimanjaro, Shira, Kibo and Mawenzi are all of very recent origin. Shira and Mawenzi both have suffered considerable erosion and only jagged peaks remain. Kibo, the central, youngest and highest peak has survived as an almost perfect cone.
Although East Africa and nearby Olduvai Gorge is thought to be the cradle of mankind it is unlikely that early man would have been attracted to the steep and cold slopes of Kilimanjaro at a time when it was probably very active and dangerous. A Wachagga legend talks of Mawenzi receiving fire for its pipe from his younger brother Kibo. The Wachagga who live on the fertile volcanic soils around the base of the mountain probably only came to the area about 300 years ago thus this legend suggests very recent activity. Another of their legends talks of demons and evil spirits living on the mountain and guarding immense treasures. Stories are told of a king who decided to go to the top, few of his party survived and those who did had damaged arms and legs.
Arab and Chinese traders and historians make mention of a giant mountain lying inland from Mombasa or Zanzibar but few early traders ventured into the interior of the continent. Slave traders passed below it and sometimes raided the villages of the Wachagga but it was not till the middle of the 19th century that a more serious interest was taken in the mountain and attempts were made to scale it.
In 1848 Johann Rebmann a missionary from Gerlingen in Germany while crossing the plains of Tsavo saw Mount Kilimanjaro. His guide talked of baridi - cold, and of tales how a group of porters were sent up the mountain to bring back the silver or other treasures from the summit.They came back only with water. Rebmann's report stimulated great interest in Germany and in the following years several expeditions were organised; first by Baron von Decken then later by Dr. Hans Meyer who finally stood on the highest point on the 5th of October 1889.
Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, now attracts many thousands of walkers each year. On the 1st of January 2000 over 1000 people reached the summit to see the sun rise over a new Millennium.