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SUB SAHARAN ARCHITECTURE

A RESOURCE FOR THE STUDY OF THE HISTORY AND THEORY OF ARCHITECTURE IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

ARCHITECTURE OF SUB SAHARAN AFRICA '

Like other aspects of the culture of Africa, the architecture of Africa is exceptionally diverse. Throughout the history of Africa, Africans have developed their own local architectural traditions. In some cases, broader regional styles can be identified, such as the Sudano-Sahelian architecture of West Africa. A common theme in traditional African architecture is the use of fractal scaling: small parts of the structure tend to look similar to larger parts, such as a circular village made of circular houses.

African architecture in some areas has been influenced by external cultures for centuries, according to available evidence. Western architecture has influenced coastal areas since the late 15th Century A.D. and is now an important source of inspiration for many larger buildings, particularly in major cities.

African architecture uses a wide range of materials, including thatch, stick/wood, mud, mudbrick, rammed earth, and stone. These material preferences vary by region: North Africa for stone and rammed earth, the Horn of Africa for stone and mortar, West Africa for mud/adobe, Central Africa for thatch/wood and more perishable materials, Southeast and Southern Africa for stone and thatch/wood.

NUBIA

Nubian architecture is one of the most ancient in the world. The earliest style of Nubian architecture includes the speos, structures carved out of solid rock under the A-Group culture (3700-3250 B.C.). Egyptians borrowed and made extensive use of the process at Speos Artemidos and Abu Simbel. A-Group culture led eventually to the C-Group culture, which began building using light, supple materials LIKE animal skins and wattle and daub with larger structures of mudbrick later becoming the norm.

The Nubian pyramids at Meroe form part of the C-Group culture and were related to that of the city of Kerma, which was settled around 2400 B.C.. It was a walled city containing religious buildings, large circular dwellings, a palace, and well-laid-out roads. On the east side of the city, a funerary temple and chapel were laid out. It supported a population of 2,000. One of its most enduring structures was the Deffufa, a mud-brick temple, on top of which ceremonies were performed.

Between 1500 B.C.and 1085 B.C., Egypt conquered and dominated Nubia, which brought about the Napatan phase of Nubian history: the birth of the Kingdom of Kush. Kush was immensely influenced by Egypt and eventually conquered Egypt. During this phase, we see the building of numerous pyramids and temples. Gebel Barkal, in the town of Napata, was a significant site, where Kushite pharaohs received legitimacy.

Thirteen temples and two palaces have been excavated in Napata, which has yet to be fully excavated. Sudan contains 223 Nubian pyramids, more numerous but smaller in size than the Egyptian pyramids, at three major sites: El Kurru, Nuri, and Meroe. The elements of Nubian pyramids, built for kings and queens, included steep walls, a chapel facing east, a stairway facing east, and a chamber accessed via the stairway. The Meroe site has the most pyramids of any site and is considered one of the largest archaeological site in the world. Around 350 A.D., the area was invaded by the Kingdom of Aksum and the Napatan kingdom collapsed.

View of Pyramids at Meroe, Sudan, 8th century B.C. to the 4th century A.D.

Pyramid Temple Tombs at Meroe Group C, built from 300 B.C. to about 350 A.D.

HORN OF AFRICA AKSUMITE

Ethiopia Aksumite architecture flourished in the Ethiopian region, as attested by the numerous Aksumite influences in and around the medieval churches of Lalibela, where stelae (hawilts) and, later, entire churches were carved out of single blocks of rock. Other monumental structures include massive underground tombs often located beneath stelae. Other well-known structures employing monolithic construction include the Tomb of the False Door and the tombs of Kaleb and Gebre Mesqel in Axum.

Most structures, however—such as palaces, villas, commoner's houses, and other churches and monasteries—were built of alternating layers of stone and wood. Some examples of this style had whitewashed exteriors and/or interiors, such as the medieval 12th-Century A.D. monastery of Yemrehanna Krestos, which was built in Aksumite style. Contemporary houses were one-room stone structures, two-storey square houses, or roundhouses of sandstone with basalt foundations.

Villas were generally two-to-four storeys tall and had sprawling rectangular plans (cf. Dungur ruins). A good example of still-standing Aksumite architecture is the monastery of Debre Damo from the 6th century. The ruin of the temple at Yeha, Tigray Region, Ethiopia. The architecture of Ethiopia varies greatly from region to region. Over the years, it has incorporated various architectural styles and techniques.

DʿMT (C. 800-400 B.C.)

The best-known building of the period in the region is the ruined 8th-century B.C. multi-story tower at Yeha in Ethiopia, believed to have been the capital of Dʿmt. Ashlar masonry was especially dominant during this period, owing to South Arabian influence where the style was extremely common for monumental structures.

The Church of Abuna Aregawi at the Debre Damo (Tigrinya: ደብረ ዳሞ), also spelled Debre Dammo, Dabra Dāmmo or Däbrä Dammo the monastery was constructed around the mid-6th century in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. .  The churches sit on a rather inaccessible flat-topped mountain or amba. The mountain is a steeply rising plateau of trapezoidal shape, about 1000 A.D. by 400 m in dimension.

It sits at an elevation of 2216 m above sea level. It is north of Bizet, and northwest of Adigrat, in the Mehakelegnaw Zone of the Tigray Region, close to the border with Eritrea. The mountain occupied by a monastery is accessible only by a rope climb up a sheer cliff, 15 m high. It is known for its collection of manuscripts and for having the earliest existing church building in Ethiopia that is still in its original style, and only men can visit it. Tradition claims that the monastery was founded in the 6th century by Abuna Aregawi.

Aksumite architecture flourished in the region from the 4th century BC onward. It persisted even after the transition from the Aksumite dynasty to the Zagwe dynasty in the 12th Century A.D., as attested by the numerous Aksumite influences in and around the medieval churches of Lalibela. Stelae (hawilts) and later entire churches were carved out of single blocks of rock. This was later emulated at Lalibela and throughout the Tigray Province, especially during the early-mid medieval period (c. 10th and 11th Centuries A.D. in Tigray, mainly 12th Century A.D. around Lalibela). Other monumental structures include massive underground tombs, often located beneath stelae. Among the most spectacular survivals are the giant stelae, one of which, now fallen (scholars think that it may have fallen during or immediately after erection), is the single largest monolithic structure ever erected (or attempted to be erected). Other well-known structures employing the use of monoliths include tombs such as the "Tomb of the False Door" and the tombs of Kaleb and Gebre Mesqel in Axum.

Most structures, however, like palaces, villas, commoner's houses, and other churches and monasteries, were built of alternating layers of stone and wood. The protruding wooden support beams in these structures have been named "monkey heads" and are a staple of Aksumite architecture and a mark of Aksumite influence in later structures. Some examples of this style had whitewashed exteriors and/or interiors, such as the medieval 12th-century monastery of Yemrehanna Krestos near Lalibela, built during the Zagwe dynasty in Aksumite style. Contemporary houses were one-room stone structures, two-storey square houses, or roundhouses of sandstone with basalt foundations. Villas were generally two to four storeys tall and built on sprawling rectangular plans (cf. Dungur ruins). A good example of still-standing Aksumite architecture is the monastery of Debre Damo from the 6th century.

ZAGWE DYNASTY

Lalibela's monolithic church Bete Gebriel-Rufa'el. Ethiopian architecture continued to expand from the Aksumite style but also incorporated new traditions with the expansion of the Ethiopian state. Styles incorporated more wood and rounder structures in commoner's architecture in the center of the country and the south, and these stylistic influencies were manifested in the slow construction of churches and monasteries. Throughout the medieval period, Aksumite architecture and influences and its monolithic tradition persisted, with its influence strongest in the early medieval (Late Aksumite) and Zagwe periods (when the churches of Lalibela were carved). Biete Medhane Alem in Lalibela is the largest monolithic church in the world.

Throughout the medieval period, and especially from the 10th to 12th Centuries A.D., churches were hewn out of rock throughout Ethiopia, especially during the northernmost region of Tigray, which was the heart of the Aksumite Empire. However, rock-hewn churches have been found as far south as Adadi Maryam (15th Century A.D.), about 100 km south of Addis Ababa. The most famous example of Ethiopian rock-hewn architecture are the 11 monolithic churches of Lalibela, carved out of the red volcanic tuff found around the town. Though later medieval hagiographies attribute all 11 structures to the eponymous King Lalibela (the town was called Roha and Adefa before his reign), new evidence indicates that they may have been built separately over a period of a few centuries, with only a few of the more recent churches having been built under his reign. Archaeologist and Ethiopisant David Phillipson postulates, for instance, that Bete Gebriel-Rufa'el was actually built in the very early medieval period, some time between 600 A.D. and 800 A.D., originally as a fortress but was later turned into a church. Throughout the medieval period, the monolithic influences of Aksumite architecture persisted, with its influence felt strongest in the early medieval (Late Aksumite) and Zagwe periods (when the churches of Lalibela were carved).

Throughout the medieval period, and especially during the 10th to 12th c\Centuries A.D., churches were hewn out of rock throughout Ethiopia, especially in the northernmost region of Tigray, which was the heart of the Aksumite Empire. However, rock-hon churches have been found as far south as Adadi Maryam (15th Century A.D.), about 100 kilometres (62 mi) south of Addis Ababa.

The most famous examples of Ethiopian rock-hewn architecture are the 11 monolithic churches of Lalibela, carved out of the red volcanic tuff found around the town. Although later medieval hagiographies attribute all 11 structures to the eponymous king Lalibela (the town was called Roha and Adefa before his reign), new evidence indicates that they may have been built separately over a period of a few centuries, with only a few of the more recent churches having been built under his reign. Archaeologist and Ethiopisant David Phillipson postulates that Bete Gebriel-Rufa'el was actually built in the very early medieval period, some time between 600 A.D. and 800 A.D., originally as a fortress but later turned into a church.

GONDAR ARCHITECTURE

Fasilides' castle in Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar. During the early modern period, the absorption of new diverse influences such as Baroque, Arab, Turkish and Gujarati Indian style began with the arrival of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Portuguese soldiers had initially come in the mid-16th century as allies to aid Ethiopia in its fight against Adal, and later Jesuits came hoping to convert the country. Some Turkish influence may have entered the country during the late 16th century during its war with the Ottoman Empire (see Habesh), which resulted in an increased building of fortresses and castles.

Ethiopia is naturally easily defensible because of its numerous ambas or flat-topped mountains and rugged terrain, yielded little tactical use from the structures in contrast to their advantages in the flat terrain of Europe and other areas, and so had until this point little developed the tradition. Castles were built especially beginning with the reign of Sarsa Dengel around the Lake Tana region, and subsequent Emperors maintained the tradition, eventually resulting in the creation of the Fasil Ghebbi (royal enclosure of castles) in the newly founded capital (1635), Gondar. Emperor Susenyos (r.1606-1632) converted to Catholicism in 1622 and attempted to make it the state religion, declaring it as such from 1624 until his abdication; during this time, he employed Arab, Gujarati (brought by the Jesuits), and Jesuit masons and their styles, as well as local masons, some of whom were Beta Israel.

With the reign of his son Fasilides, most of these foreigners were expelled, although some of their architectural styles were absorbed into the prevailing Ethiopian architectural style. This style of the Gondarine dynasty would persist throughout the 17th and 18th centuries especially and also influenced modern 19th-century and later styles.

Temple Ruin at Yeha which lies to the northeast of Axum 700 B.C.

Main Church of Debre Demo on top of the mesa in the Mehakelegnaw Zone of the Tigray Region, 6th.Century A.D.

Biet Gyiorgis Church at Lalibela, late 12th or early 13th century A.D.

Church of Gabriel Raphael at Lalibela built in the 12th century A.D.

Castle of Fasilides at Gondar founded in the 17th century by Emperor Fasilides

WEST AFRICA TICHITT WALATA CULTURE

Tichitt Walata is the oldest surviving collection of settlements in West Africa and the oldest of all stone-based settlements south of the Sahara. It was built by the Soninke people and is thought to be the precursor of the Ghana empire. It was settled by agropastoral people around 2000–300 B.C., which makes it almost 1000 years older than previously thought. One finds well-laid-out streets and fortified compounds, all made out of skilled stone masonry. In all, there were 500 settlements.

NOK CULTURE

Nok culture artifacts—located on the Jos Plateau in Nigeria, between the Niger River and Benue River—have been dated as far back as 790 B.C.. The excavation of the Nok settlement in Samun Dikiya shows a tendency to build on hilltops and mountain peaks. However, Nok settlements have not been extensively excavated.

SAO CIVILISATION

The Sao civilization (also called So) flourished in Central Africa from ca. the fourth or sixth century B.C. to as late as the sixteenth century A.D.. The Sao lived by the Chari River basin in territory that later became part of Cameroon and Chad. They are the earliest civilization to have left clear traces of their presence in the territory of modern Cameroon. Sometime around the 16th century, conversion to Islam changed the cultural identity of the former Sao. Today, several ethnic groups of northern Cameroon and southern Chad, but particularly the Sara, Kotoko, claim descent from the civilization of the Sao.

KATSINA CIVILISATION

Gobarau Mosque is believed to have been completed during the reign of Muhammadu Korau (1398–1408 A.D.), the first Muslim king of Katsina. Originally built as the central mosque of Katsina town, it was later also used as a school. By the beginning of the 16th Century A.D., Katsina had become a very important commercial and academic centre in Hausaland, and Gobarau Mosque had grown into a famed Islamic institution of higher learning. Gobarau continued to be Katsina's central mosque until the beginning of the 19th century A.D.

OTHER PRE-COLONIAL NIGERIAN SOCIETIES

Several societies in pre-colonial Nigeria built structures from earth and stone. In general, these structures were primarily defensive, repelling invaders from other tribes, but many settlements put spiritual elements into their construction. These defensive structures were primarily constructed from earth, occasionally plastered.

Dump ramparts consist of an outer ditch and inner bank and can span from 1/2 meter to 20 meters across in the largest settlements such as Benin and Sungbo's Eredo. Coursed mud walls in the Guinea and Sudan savannas were laid in layers of mud. Each layer of mud would be held in place by wooden framing, allowed to dry, and built on top of. At the most significant settlement in Koso, these walls averaged 6 meters in height, tapering from 2 meters thick at the base to 1/2 meter thick at the top. Tubali walls in northern Nigeria have two components: sun-dried mud bricks held together with mud mortar. Walls in this style have a tendency to deteriorate in wetter climates.

These mud constructions were usually plastered with mud mixed with other materials. The defensive purpose of this was to create a smoother, unscalable surface to help repel attackers. However, some plaster has been found with blood, bone remains, gold dust, oil, and straw mixed in. Some of these materials were functional, adding strength, while others had spiritual meanings, possibly to defend against evil spirits.

Benin City is the capital and largest city of Edo State in southern Nigeria.Benin City in particular had a sophisticated house and urban planning. Houses had several rooms and were usually roofed, enclosing private quarters, sacred spaces, and rooms for receiving guests. Usually, multiple houses would enclose a shared courtyard. When it rained, the house roofs would collect water into a space in the courtyard for later use. Houses would have public frontage along long, straight roads. The city had markets and the chief's palace in the centre of the city, with dominant and subordinate roads leading outwards. HM Stanely, quoted in Asomani-Boateng, Raymond (2011-11), described the roads as "...fenced with tall [water cane] neatly set very close together in uniform rows..." possibly for privacy.

More sophisticated construction methods include stone and brick constructions, with and without mortar, plaster, and accompanying defensive structures. Fired brick constructions were observed in settlements in northeast Nigeria, such as historic Kanuri buildings. Many of the bricks have since been removed for new constructions. Laterite block walls with clay mortar were found in northwest Nigeria, possibly inspired by Songhai constructions. Walls built from stone without mortar have been found where societies could obtain sufficient stone, most notably in Sukur. None of these constructions have been observed with additional plastering.

The Sukur World Heritage Site is especially significant, with extensive terraces, walls, and infrastructure. Walls separate homes, animal pens, and granaries, while terraces often include spiritual items such as sacred trees or ceramic shrines. Early iron foundries were also present, usually placed close to the homes of their owners.

Broadly, three styles of residential architecture can be identified in indigenous Nigerian architecture, relating to the people groups which developed them.

HAUSA CULTURE

Hausa architecture uses plastered adobe to create monolithic walls. Roofing is provided by shallow domes and vaults made from structural timber beams covered by laterite and earth. Homesteads are bounded by perimeter walls with both circular and linear interior divisions with one clearly defined entrance.

YORUBA CULTURE

Yoruba architecture uses cured earth walls to support roof timbers, over which leaf or woven grass roofing is applied. These walls are usually homogeneous mud structures, though wattle-and-daub techniques can be found in certain locations. Space is divided into individual units which are then connected by proximity and walls into a compound with courtyards and private spaces. Multiple entrances and exits allow access to accessory facilities such as kitchens.

IGBO CULTURE

Igbo architecture uses similar construction techniques and materials as Yoruba architecture but varies significantly in spatial arrangement. No unified compound walls exist in these constructions. Instead, individual units are related to a central leader's hut, with significance attached to relative position and size. These elements are believed to affect present-day residential house design, especially when designating spaces as public, semi-public, semi-private, or private.

Hausa Style House in Old Town of Zinder, Niger

Sultan's Palace and Museum at Gaoui, Chad

HORN OF AFRICA & SOMALIA

Somali architecture has a rich and diverse tradition of designing and engineering different types of construction, such as masonry, castles, citadels, fortresses, mosques, temples, aqueducts, lighthouses, towers, and tombs, during the ancient, medieval, and early modern periods in Somalia. It also encompasses the fusion of Somalo-Islamic architecture with Western designs in modern times. In ancient Somalia, pyramidal structures known in Somali as taalo were a popular burial style, with hundreds of these dry stone monuments scattered around the country today. Houses were built of dressed stone similar to the ones in Ancient Egypt, and there are examples of courtyards, and large stone walls, such as the Wargaade Wall, enclosing settlements. The peaceful introduction of Islam in the early medieval era of Somalia's history brought Islamic architectural influences from Arabia and Persia, which stimulated a shift in construction from dry stone, and other related materials, to coral stone, sun-dried bricks, and the widespread use of limestone in Somali architecture. Many of the new architectural designs, such as mosques, were built on the ruins of older structures, a practice that would continue over and over again throughout the following centuries.

WEST AFRICA SUDANO-SAHELIAN

MALI 

The architecture of Mali is a distinct subset of Sudano-Sahelian architecture indigenous to West Africa. It comprises adobe buildings such as the Great Mosque of Djenné or the University of Timbuktu. It can be found all over the Sahel region of Africa. Malian architecture developed during the Ghana Empire, which founded most of Mali's great cities. They then flourished in West Africa's two greatest civilisations the Mali Empire and the Songhai Empire. 

Mosques are a common architectural typology and building program present in Mali. Typically, mosques consist of prayer space and a mausoleum, merging multiple stages of life into a singular place of worship. In Malian mosque design, the organization is straightforward. These mosques consist of a basic, centralized courtyard, framed by aisles. Prayer halls are located at the ends of this courtyard.

Many Malian mosques feature anthropomorphic characteristics that will interpret human bodily movements, typically mimicking praying figures and gestures. Aisles bordering the interior structure represent these bodily positions when one takes a prayer position. More specifically, the minaret represents the head. The centralized courtyard symbolizes the stomach. Galleries at the perimeter of the courtyard represent the feet. Lastly, the aisles serve as the arms. The Great Mosque of Djenné was first built in the 13th Century A.D.. It is an example of Sudano-Sahelian style and has been an integral part of the Malian community for almost a millennium.

TIMBUKTU

Timbuktu has many adobe and mud-brick buildings but the most famous is the University. The masjids (mosques) of Sankore, Djinguereber, and Sidi Yahya were the centres of learning in medieval Mali and produced some of the most famous works in Africa, the Timbuktu Manuscripts.

Timbuktu is a city in Mali with very distinguishable architecture. Most of the architecture present in this region is a commentary on the history and evolution of human beings. These architectural mosques are organized in a manner referencing bodily movements. Common materials used in construction are natural, earthen materials that also pay homage to their ancestral presence. The “body acts as an organizational template for a building’s interior layout.” Ultimately, these architectural forms are derived from an individual level but align with the cosmos, revealing an intricate spiritual system. Structurally speaking, the architecture has been redefined during the Sonhai reign. Protective, strong materials are utilized to protect the sun-brick adobe structures.

ARCHITECTURAL MATERIALS

Much of the materials in Mali are derived from its natural surroundings. Many structures are composed of basic earth materials which innately have effective thermodynamic qualities. These material choices allow structures to remain cool throughout the day and hot during the night. This is possible because the earth brick will absorb heat throughout the hot period of the day, then later radiate it to the interiors as the brick cools down overnight. Then, conversely, the cool brick will radiate into the interiors throughout the day, as the brick bakes in the sun. Wooden supports protruding is also a common, defining characteristic of the architecture of Mali. It provides scaffolding for annual replastering events of Mali architecture. These sticks protruding from the larger planes also enable moisture to be wicked away from these earthen bricks.

In addition to this practicality of material choices, there is also symbolism at work. The points of structural intersection align with anatomical and spiritual ideologies present in this region. The Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali, first built in the 13th Century A.D. and reconstructed in 1906–1909, is the largest clay building in the world,

The Great Mosque of Djenne, built 13th-14th century A.D. rebuilt in 1906

Sankore mosque at Timbuktu, Mali 988 A.D.

Djingareyber Mosque at Timbuktu built from 1327 A.D.

Storage Silos in Village near Bandiagara, Mali

House in Dogon Village near Bandiagara, Mali

Decorated Mud House of Tiébélé, Burkina Faso

Decorated Mud House at Tiébélé, Burkina Faso

GHANA

At Kumbi Saleh, locals lived in dome-shaped dwellings in the king's section of the city, surrounded by a great enclosure. Traders lived in stone houses in a section that possessed 12 beautiful mosques (as described by al-Bakri), one of which was for Friday prayer. The king is said to have owned several mansions, one of which was sixty-six feet long and forty-two feet wide, contained seven rooms, was two stories high, and had a staircase, with paintings on the walls and chambers filled with sculpture. 

ASHANTI

Ashanti architecture from Ghana is perhaps best known from the reconstruction at Kumasi, Ghana. Its key features are courtyard-based buildings and walls with striking reliefs in brightly painted mud plaster. An example is the Besease shrine, which can be seen at Kumasi. Four rectangular rooms, constructed from wattle and daub, lie around a courtyard. Animal designs mark the walls, and palm leaves cut to a tiered shape provide the roof.

YORUBA

The Yoruba surrounded their settlements with massive mud walls. Their buildings had a similar plan to the Ashanti shrines, but with verandahs around the court. The walls were of puddled mud and palm oil. The most famous of the Yoruba fortifications, and the second-largest wall edifice in Africa, is Sungbo's Eredo, a structure that was built in honour of a traditional oloye by the name of Bilikisu Sungbo, in the 9th, 10th, and 11th Centuries A.D.. The structure is made up of sprawling mud walls among the valleys that surrounded the town of Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State. Sungbo's Eredo is the largest pre-colonial monument in Africa, larger than the Great Pyramids or Great Zimbabwe.

KANEM-BORNU

Kanem-Bornu's capital city, Birni N'Gazargamu, may have had a population of 200,000. It had four mosques, which could hold up to 12,000 worshippers. It was surrounded by a 25-foot-high (7.6 m) wall more than 1-mile (1.6 km) in circumference. Many large streets extended from the esplanade and connected to 660 roads. The main buildings were built with red brick. Other buildings were built with straw and adobe.

HAUSA KINGDOMS

The important Hausa Kingdoms city-state of Kano was surrounded by a wall of reinforced ramparts of stone and bricks. Kano contained a citadel near which the royal court resided. Individual residences were separated by earthen walls. The higher the status of the resident the more elaborate the wall. The entranceway was maze-like to keep women secluded. Inside, near the entrance, were the abodes of unmarried women. Further on were slave quarters.

BENIN

The rise of kingdoms in the West African coastal region produced an architecture that drew on indigenous traditions, utilizing wood. The Benin Empire was one of the oldest and most highly developed states in west Africa, dating back to the 11th century. The walls of Benin City and its surrounding kingdom were a man-made marvel described as “the world’s largest earthworks prior to the mechanical era”.

The Walls of Benin, one of Africa’s ancient architectural marvels, were destroyed by the British in 1897 A.D. during what has become known as the Punitive Expedition. This act destroyed more than a thousand years of Benin history and some of the earliest evidence of rich African civilisations.

The astounding city was a series of earthworks made up of banks and ditches, called “Iya” in the Edo language, in the area around present-day Benin City. They consist of 15 kilometers of city Iya and an estimated 16 000 kilometers in the rural area around Benin. The walls stood for over 400 years, protecting the inhabitants of the kingdom, as well as the traditions and civilisation of the Edo people.

It was also one of the first cities to have a semblance of street lighting with huge metal lamps, many feet high, built and placed around the city. The great Benin City is lost to history after its decline began in the 15th century. This decline was sparked by internal conflicts linked to the increasing European intrusion and slavery trade at the borders of the Benin empire. It was then completely ruined in the British Punitive expedition in the 1890s, when the city was looted, blown up and razed to the ground by British troops. The palace contained a sequence of ceremonial rooms and was decorated with brass plaques. The Walls of Benin City were one of the world's largest man-made structure.

The walls extended for some 16,000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6500 square kilometres and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are comparable to the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are one of the largest single archaeological phenomena on the planet.

Mosque at Kumbi Saleh, Mauritania, (Ancient Ghana) built from 9th and the 14th centuries A.D.

Old mud-built Houses in Kano, Nigeria

The Walls of Benin City, Nigeria built from the 11th. Century A.D. mostly destroyed in 1897 A.D.

Part of the Walls of Benin City, Nigeria, that escaped destruction in 1897 A.D.

EAST AFRICA KENYA

Thimlich Ohinga is a complex of dry-stone walled enclosures near Migori town in Western Kenya. Thimlich Ohinga was built around the 16th Century A.D. by sedentary, pastoralist Bantus who later on abandoned the site, later on replaced by members of the Luo people. The site consists of four main "Ohingni" (i.e. settlements) surrounded by walls with low entrances, the walls were built by stacking irregularly-shaped stones without the use of any mortar, the result being an interlocked wall with immense stability similar to walls of Great Zimbabwe 3600 kilometres to the south of the settlement.

The walls of Thimlich Ohinga also included vents for water drainage, buttresses to reinforce the free-standing walls, and a watchtower. Within the walls of the settlement were livestock enclosures, houses, and granaries. The inhabitants of Thimlich Ohinga engaged in craft industries, most notably pottery and metallurgy. Imported glass beads at the site indicate that Thimlich Ohinga was part of a network of long-distance trade.

TANZANIA

Engaruka is a ruined settlement on the slopes of Mount Ngorongoro in northern Tanzania. Seven stone-terraced villages comprised the settlement. A complex structure of stone channels along the mountain's base was used to dike, dam, and level surrounding river waters for irrigation of individual plots of land. Some of these irrigation channels were several kilometres long. The channels irrigated a total area of 5,000 acres (20 sq.km).

BURUNDI

Burundi never had a fixed capital. The closest thing to it was a royal hill. When the king moved, his new location became the insago. The compound itself was enclosed inside a high fence and had two entrances. One was for herders and herds. The other was to the royal palace, which was itself surrounded by a fence. The royal palace had three royal courtyards, each serving a particular function: one for herders, one as a sanctuary, and one encompassed by kitchen and granary.

RWANDA

King's palace in Nyanza, Rwanda Nyanza was the royal capital of Rwanda. The king's residence, the Ibwami, was built on a hill. Surrounding hills were occupied by permanent or temporary dwellings. These dwellings were round huts surrounded by big yards and tall hedges to separate the compounds. The Rugo, the royal compound, was encircled by reed fences encompassing thatched houses. The houses for the king's entourage were carpeted with mats and had clay hearths in the centre. For the king and his wife, the royal house was close to 200-100 yards in length and looked like a huge maze of connected huts and granaries. It had one entrance that lead to a large public square called the karubanda.

KITARA AND BUNYORO

In western Uganda, there are numerous earthworks near the Katonga River. These earthworks have been attributed to the Empire of Kitara. The most famous, Bigo Bya Mugenyi, is about 4 square miles (10 km2). The ditch was dug by cutting through 200,000 cubic metres (7,100,000 cu ft) of solid bedrock and earth. The earthwork rampart was about 12 feet (3.7 m) high. It is not certain whether its function was for defence or pastoral use. Little is known about the Ugandan earthworks.

BUGANDA

Initially, the hilltop capital, or kibuga, of Buganda would be moved to a new hill with each new ruler, or Kabaka. In the late 19th century, a permanent kibuga of Buganda was established at Mengo Hill. The capital, 1.5 miles across, was divided into quarters corresponding to provinces, with each chief building dwellings for his wife, slaves, dependents and visitors. Large plots of land were available for planting bananas and fruits. Roads were wide and well maintained.

Buganda Kingdom Royal Palace recreation, Mengo Hill, Kampala, Uganda

SOUTHERN AFRICA AFRIKANER

Dutch architecture is traditional Afrikaner architecture and is one of the most distinctive types of settler architecture in the world. It was developed during the century-and-a-half that the Cape was a Dutch colony. Even by the end of that period, the early 19th-century, the colony was inhabited by fewer than fifty thousand people, spread over an area roughly the size of the United Kingdom. The Cape Dutch architectral styled buildings showed remarkable consistency and were clearly related to rural architecture in northwestern Europe but equally clearly had their own unmistakable African character and features. 

SHONA

Mapungubwe is considered the most socially complex society in southern Africa and the first southern African culture to display economic differentiation. The elite lived separately in a mountain settlement made of sandstone. It was the precursor to Great Zimbabwe. Large amounts of dirt were carried to the top of the hill. At the bottom of the hill was a natural amphitheatre, and at the top, an elite graveyard. There were only two pathways to the top, one following a narrow steep cleft along the side of the hill of which observers at the top had a clear view.

The Great Enclosure in Great Zimbabwe, a medieval city built by a prosperous culture Great Zimbabwe was the largest medieval city in sub-Saharan Africa.  It was constructed and expanded for more than 300 years in a local style that eschewed rectilinearity for flowing curves. Neither the first nor the last of some 300 similar complexes located on the Zimbabwean plateau, Great Zimbabwe is set apart by the large scale of its structures. Its most formidable edifice, commonly referred to as the Great Enclosure, has dressed stone walls as high as 36 feet (11 m) extending for approximately 820 feet (250 m), making it the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara. Houses within the enclosure were circular and constructed of wattle and daub, with conical thatched roofs.

Great Zimbabwe a medieval city in Zimbabwe at Masvingo. Constructed from the 9th century abandoned in the 15th century

Cape Dutch styled house of Groot Constantia, Silverhurst, built by Simon van der Stel, Governor of the Cape 1691-1699 A.D.

MODERN ARCHITECTURE

MULTIPLE INFLUENCES IN ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA

Ethiopia In the early modern period, Ethiopia's absorption of diverse new influences—such as Baroque, Arab, Turkish and Gujarati Indian styles—began with the arrival of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in the 16th and 17th Centuries A.D.. Portuguese soldiers had initially come in the mid-16th century as allies to aid Ethiopia in its fight against Adal, and the Jesuits came hoping to convert the country.

Some Turkish influence may have entered the country during the late 16th Century A.D. during Ethiopia's war with the Ottoman Empire (see Habesh), which resulted in an increased building of fortresses and castles. Ethiopia, naturally hard to defensible because of its numerous ambas or flat-topped mountains and rugged terrain, gained little tactical use from these structures, in contrast to advantages they bestowed when placed on the flat terrain of Europe and other areas; and so Ethiopia had not nurtured the tradition. Castle building, especially around the Lake Tana region, began with the reign of Sarsa Dengel; and subsequent emperors maintained the tradition, eventually resulting in the creation of the Fasil Ghebbi (royal enclosure of castles) in the newly founded capital, Gondar (1635 A.D.).

Emperor Susenyos (r. 1606-1632 A.D.) converted to Catholicism in 1622 A.D. and attempted to make it the state religion, declaring it as such from 1624 A.D. until his abdication. During this time, he employed Arab, Gujarati (brought by the Jesuits), Jesuit, and local masons, some of whom were Beta Israel, and adopted their styles. With the reign of his son Fasilides, most of these foreigners were expelled, although some of their architectural styles were absorbed into the prevailing Ethiopian architectural style. This style of the Gondarine dynasty would persist throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries A.D., especially, and influenced modern 19th-century A.D. and later styles.

In Asmara, there are interesting examples of modern Italian architecture like the Taglierro Service Station in Asmara, several Hotels and Cinemas, and multi-use commercial buildings from the per-War colonial occupation.

MODERNISM

The effect of modern architecture began to be felt in the 1920s and 1930s. Le Corbusier designed several never-built schemes for Algeria, including ones for Nemours and for the reconstruction of Algiers. Elsewhere, Steffen Ahrends was active in South Africa and Ernst May in Nairobi and Mombasa.

African architecture has received deserved international attention in the last decade and one of the main responsible for this is, undoubtedly, Diébédo Francis Kéré, 2022 Pritzker Prize Winner. Born in Gando, Burkina Faso.  Kéré graduated in architecture at the Technische Universität Berlin, in Germany.

Diébédo Francis Kéré founded his architecture practice Kéré Architecture, in Berlin, Germany in 2005, after a journey in which he started advocating for the building of quality educational architecture in his home country of Burkina Faso. Deprived of proper classrooms and learning conditions as a child, and having faced the same reality as the majority of children in his country, his first works aimed at bringing tangible solutions to the issues faced by the community.

Some of Diebedo Francois Kere's buildings are:

Primary School Extension Gando, Burkina Faso 2001

Gando Teachers Housing Francois, Burkina Faso 2004

Dano Secondary School, Burkina Faso 2006-2007

Opera Village School, Burkina Faso 2010

Leo Surgical Clinic and Health Centre, Burkina Faso 2014

Startup Lion Campus, located on the banks of Lake Turkana Kenya 2021

Today, he maintains branches of his firm, Kéré Architecture, in both countries, through which he seeks to develop works in the "intersection of utopia and pragmatism", exploring the border between Western architecture and local practice. Known for involving community in the construction process of its buildings, Kéré and his office have developed works that go beyond the conventional limits of architecture and touch on themes such as local economy, migration, culture and equity.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa or Zeitz MOCAA for short recently, with its striking design, transformed a formerly derelict industrial building into an iconic landmark in Cape Town in South Africa’s oldest working harbor. Developed beside the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and designed by Heatherwick Studio, the mixed-use project is now the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. It has great cultural importance for African architecture, and the practice’s interest in refurbishment as a whole.  It was finished in 2017.

It is located inside a grain silo built on Cape Town's waterfront originally constructed in the 1920s, which was once the city's tallest building. Heatherwick's team have carved huge sections out of the building's tubular interior to create a complex network of 80 gallery spaces. However creating Zeitz MOCAA was by far the most complex part of the renovation. The museum centres around a huge atrium, based on the shape of a single grain that was scaled up to span the full height of the 27-metre-high structure.

In the places where tubes were cut back, the edges were polished to create a visible contrast between the rough aggregate of the old concrete. Laminated glass was also added to give a mirrored finish, and features a fritted pattern designed by the late African artist El Loko. This atrium provides access to all of the exhibition spaces, which total 6,000 square metres.  Externally, the building features bulging windows – formed of faceted glass panels. Positioned within the existing concrete frame, these draw light down into the atrium, while also offering a kaleidoscopic visual effect.

Tagliero Service Station in Asmara, Eritrea, 1938

Modernist Italian Villa in Asmara, Eritrea, 1936

Primary School at Gando, Burkina Faso by Diebedo Francois Kere built 2001

Opera Village by Diebedo Francis Kere, built at Laongo, Burkina Faso 2010-2015

Zeitz Museum Of Contemporary Art designed by Heatherwick Studio in Cape Town 2014-2017.

Interior View of Zeitz Museum Of Contemporary Art designed by Heatherwick Studio in Cape Town 2014-2017.

Interior View of Zeitz Museum Of Contemporary Art designed by Heatherwick Studio in Cape Town 2014-2017.