Architecture of Africa
The architecture of Africa, like other aspects of the
culture of Africa, is exceptionallyClarifyme|date=June 2008 diverse. Many ethno-linguistic groups throughout the history of Africahave had their own architectural traditions. In some cases, broader styles can be identified, such as the Sahelian architecture of an area of West Africa.One common theme in much traditional African architecture is the use of fractalscaling: small parts of the structure tend to look similar to larger parts, such as a circular village made of circular houses. [Eglash, Ron: "African Fractals: Modern computing and indigenous design.” Rutgers 1999]
As with most architectural traditions elsewhere, African architecture has been subject to numerous external influences from the earliest periods for which evidence is available. Western architecture has also had an impact on coastal areas since the late
15th century, and is now an important source for many larger buildings, particularly in major cities.
Probably the most famous class of structures in all Africa, the
pyramids of Egyptremain one of the world's greatest early architectural achievements, if limited in practical scope and originating from a purely funerary context. Egyptian architectural traditions also saw the rise of vast temple complexes and buildings.
In Nubia we have the Steo carved out of Rocks.By the Meroitic period, houses were of two rooms, forming large complexes. Notable buildings include the
Meroitic Western Palaceof Faras, built of sun-dried brick.
Little is known of ancient architecture south and west of the Sahara. Harder to date are the monoliths around the
Cross River, which has geometric or human designs. The vast number of Senegambian stone circlesalso evidence an emerging architecture.
Egypt's achievements in architecture were varied from temples, enclosed cities, canals, and dams.
Assyriansinvaded Egypt, in 671 BC, Kush, as the kingdom was known, became an independent state until 591 BC when the Egyptians under Psamtik IIinvaded Kush and sacked and burned Napata. Little is left today of the original city, but excavations have brought to light some thirteen temples and three palaces.
In 350 BCE, partially in response to Egyptian pressure, the kingdom’s capital was moved to further south to
Meroë, and the city became an important iron producing center. Around 300 BC, the monarchs began to be buried there. The city - on the east bank of the Nile about 6 km northeast of the Kabushiya station near Shendi, Sudan, ca. 200 km north-east of Khartoum- is marked by over two hundred pyramidsof different sizes in three groups. The pyramids were built of sandstone, and ranged from 10 to 30 m in height. Around AD 350 the area was invaded by the Ethiopiankingdom of Aksumand the kingdom collapsed. [Prof. James Giblin, Department of History, The University of Iowa. [http://www.uiowa.edu/~africart/toc/history/giblinhistory.html Issues in African History] ]
The best known building of the period in the region is the ruined or eight century BC multi-story tower at
Yehain Ethiopia, believed to have been the capital of D'mt. Ashlar masonry was especially dominant during this period, owing to South Arabianinfluence where the style was extremely common for monumental structures. Aksumite Architectureflourished in the region from the 4th century BC onward, persisting even after the transition of the Aksumite dynasty to the Zagwe in the 12th century, as attested by the numerous Aksumite influences in and around the medieval churches of Lalibela. Stelae ("hawilt"s) and later entire churches were carved out of single blocks of rock, emulated later at Lalibela and throughout Tigray. Other monumental structures include massive underground tombs often located beneath stelae. The stelae 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 Mesqelin 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 Krestosnear Lalibela, built during the Zagwe dynasty in Aksumite style. Contemporary houses were one-room stone structures or two-storey square houses or roundhouses of sandstonewith basaltfoundations. Villas were generally two to four stories tall and built on sprawling rectangular plans (cf. Dungurruins). A good example of still-standing Aksumite architecture is the monastery of Debre Damofrom the 6th century.
Thousands of tombs were left by Berbers that were pre-Christian in origin and whose architecture was unique to north-west Africa. The most famous was Tomb of the Christian Woman in Western Algeria. This structure contains column domed and spiraling pathways that lead to a single chamber.
Tichitt Walata (Old Ghana)
The oldest surviving archaeological settlements in West Africa and the oldest all stone base settlement south of the Sahara. It is thought to have been built by Soninke people and is thought to be the precursor of the Ghana empire. It was being settled around 2000 B.C. One finds well laid out streets and fortified compounds all made out of skilled stone masonry. In all, there were 400 settlements.
The Islamic conquest of North Africa saw
Islamic architecturedevelop in the region, including such famous structures as the Cairo Citadel.
West African Architecture can not be broken into any groups
Islamic merchants played a vital role in the Western
Sahelregion since the Kingdom of Ghana.
Kanem-Bornu's capital city Birni N'Gazargamu, may have had a population of 200,000. It had four mosque which could hold up to 12,000 worshippers. It was surrounded by a 25 foot wall and more than 1 mile in circumference. Many large streets extended from the esplanade and connected to 660 roads. The main building and structure were built with red brick. Other buildings were built with straw and adobe.
Six important Hausa city states existed Kano, Katsina, Daura, Gobir, Zazzau, and Biram. Kano was the most important. The city was surrounded by a wall of reinforced ramparts of stone and bricks. Kano contained a citadel near which the royal class resided. Individual residence was separated by "earthen" wall. The higher the status of the resident the more elaborate the wall. The entranceway was mazelike to seclude women. Inside near the entrance were the abode of unmarried women. Further down were slave quarters.
Kumbi Saleh, locals lived in domed-shaped dwellings in the king's section of the city, surrounded by a great enclosure. Traders lived in stone houses in a section which possessed 12 beautiful mosques (as described by al-bakri), one centered on Friday prayer. [Historical Society of Ghana. Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana, The Society, 1957, pp81] The king is said to have owned several mansions, one of which was sixty-six feet long, forty-two feet wide, contained seven rooms, was two stories high, and had a staircase; with the walls and chambers filled with sculpture and painting. [Davidson, Basil. The Lost Cities of Africa. Boston: Little Brown, 1959, pp86] Sahelian architecture initially grew from the two cities of Djennéand Timbuktu. The SankoreMosque in Timbuktu, constructed from mud on timber, was similar in style to the Great Mosque of Djenné. The rise of kingdoms in the West African coastal region produced architecture which drew on indigenous traditions, utilizing wood. The famed Benin City, destroyed by the Punitive Expedition, was a large complex of homes in coursed mud, with hipped roofs of shingles or palm leaves. The Palace had a sequence of ceremonial rooms, and was decorated with brass plaques Ashanti architectureis perhaps best known from the reconstruction at Kumasi. Its key features are courtyard-based buildings, and walls with striking reliefs in mud plasterbrightly painted. An example of a shrinecan be seen at Bawjwiasiin Ghana. Four rectangular rooms, constructed from wattle and daub, lie around a courtyard. Animal designs mark the walls, and palm leaves cut to tiered shape provide the roof. 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 largest Wall edifice in Africa is Sungbo's Eredo. It is comprised of sprawling mud walls and the valleys that surrounded the town of Ijebu-Ode in Ogun state. Sungbo's Eredo is the largest monument in Africa, larger than the Great Pyramidor Great Zimbabwe.
Nubia (Christian and Islamic)
Farther south, increased trade (namely with Arab merchants) and the development of
ports saw the birth of Swahili architecture. Developed from an outgrowth of indigenous Bantu settlements [African Archaeological Review, Volume 15, Number 3, September 1998 , pp. 199-218(20)] , one of the earliest examples is the Palace of Husuni Kubwalying west of Kilwa, built about 1245. As with many other early Swahili buildings, coralwas the main construction material, and even the roof was constructed by attaching coral to timbers. Contrastingly, the palace at Kilwawas a two-story tower, in a walled enclosure. Other notable structures from the period include the pillar tombs as Malindiand Mnaraniin Kenya, and elsewhere, originally built from coralbut later from stone. Later examples include Zanzibar's Stone Town, with its famous carved doors, and the Great Mosque of Kilwa.
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). Throughout the medieval period, and especially during the 10th-12th centuries, 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 c.), about 100km south of Addis Abeba. 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 and 800 A.D., originally as a fortress but was later turned into a church. [http://www.archaeology.org/0411/newsbriefs/ethiopia.html]
Mbanza Congo was the capital of the Kingdom of Kongo with a population of 30,000 plus. It sat on a cliff with river below and forested valley. The King's dwelling was describe as a mile and half enclosure with walled pathways, courtyard, gardens, decorated huts, and palisades. One early explorer described it in terms of a Cretan labyrinth.
The Eastern Lunda dwelling of the Kacembe(king) was describe as containing fenced roads, a mile long. The enclosed walls were made of grass, 12 to 13 span in height. The enclosed roads lead to a rectangular hut openned on the west side. In the center was a wooden base with a statue on top about 3 span.
Burundi never had a fix capital. The closest thing was a royal hill, when the king moved, the location became the capital called the insago. The compound itself was enclosed inside a high fence. The compount had two entrance. One was for herders and herds. The other was to the royal palace. This palace was surrounded by a fence. The royal palace had three royal courtyard. Each serve a particular function one for herders, a sanctuary, kitchen and granary.
Nyanza was a royal capital of Rwanda. The king's residence the Ibwame was built on a hill. The surrounding hills were occupied by permanent or temporary dwellings. These dwellings were round huts surrounded by big yards and high hedge to separate compounds. The Rugo the royal compund was made of circular reed fence around thatched houses. The houses were carpeted with mats and had a clay hearth in the center for the king, his wife, and entourage. The royal house was close to 200-100 yards. It looked like a huge maze of connected huts and granaries. It had one entrance that lead to a large public square called the karubanda.
The capital of the Kuba Kingdom was surrounded by a 40 inch high fence. Inside the fence were roads, a walled royal palace, urban buildings. The palace was rectangular and in the center of the city.
The capital(kibuga)of the Buganda constantly change from hill to hill a description of the Kibuga of Buganda at Mengo Hills. The capital was divided into quarters corresponding to provinces. Each chief built a dwelling corresponding to provinces. Each chief built a dwelling for wife, slaves, dependents, and visitors. The city was a mile and half wide. Large plots of land was available for planting bananas and fruits. Roads were wide and well maintained.
The Marave people built bridges called Uraro due to changing river depth. These bridges were made out of bamboo. Bamboos were placed parallel to each other and tied together by bark(maruze). One end of the bridge would be tied to an existing tree. The bridge would curve downward 80 spans when entering. A bamboo on top would serve as a balustrade.
Mapungubweis considered the most socially complex society south of the Sahara. The first sub-saharan culture to display economic differentiation. The elite was separated on a mountain settlement. Great Zimbabweis the largest medieval city in sub-Saharan Africa. Great Zimbabwe 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 terrific scale of its structure. Its most formidable edifice, commonly referred to as the Great Enclosure, has dressed stone walls as high as 36 feet extending approximately 820 feet, making it the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert. Houses within the enclosure were circular and constructed of wattle and daub, with conical thatched roofs.
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, 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 Dengelaround the Lake Tanaregion, 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-18th centuries especially and also influenced modern 19th century styles and later.
Early European colonies developed around the
West African coast, building large forts, as can be seen at Elmina Castle, Cape Coast Castle, Christiansborg, Fort Jesusand elsewhere. These were usually plain, with little ornament, but showing more internal creativity at Dixcove Fort. Other embellishments were gradually accreted, with the style inspiring later buildings such as Lamu Fort and the Stone Palaceof Kumasi.
By the late
nineteenth century, most buildings reflected the fashionable European eclecticismand pastisched Mediterranean, or even Northern European, styles. Examples of colonial towns from this era survive at Saint-Louis, Senegal, Grand-Bassamand elsewhere. A few buildings were pre-fabricatedin Europe and shipped over for erection. This European tradition continued well into the twentieth century with the construction of European-style manor houses, such as Shiwa Ng'anduin what is now Zambia, or the Boerhomesteads in South Africa, and with many town buildings.
The revival of interest in traditional styles can be traced to
Cairoin the early 19th century. This had spread to Algiersand Moroccoby the early twentieth century, from which time colonial buildings across the continent began to pastiche elements of traditional African architecture, the Jamia Mosquein Nairobibeing a typical example. In some cases, architects attempted to mix local and European styles, such as at Bagamoyo.
The impact of
modern architecturebegan to be felt in the 1920s and 1930s. Le Corbusierdesigned several unbuilt schemes for Algeria, including ones for Nemoursand for the reconstruction of Algiers. Elsewhere, Steffen Ahrenswas active in South Africa, and Ernst Mayin Nairobi and Mombasa.
The Italian futurists saw
Asmaraas an opportunity to build their designs. Planned villages were constructed in Libyaand Italian East Africa, including the new town of Tripoli, all utilising modern designs.
Maxwell Fryand Jane Drewextended their work on British schools into Ghana, and also designed the University of Ibadan. The reconstruction of Algiers offered more opportunities, with Algiers Cathedral, and universities by Oscar Niemeyer, Kenzo Tange, Zwiefeland Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. But modern architecture in this sense largely remained the preserve of European architects until the 1960s, one notable exception being Le Groupe Transvaalin South Africa, who built homes inspired by Walter Gropiusand Le Corbusier.
A number of new cities were built following the end of
colonialism, while others were greatly expanded. Perhaps the best known example is that of Abidjan, where the majority of buildings were still designed by high-profile non-African architects. In Yamoussoukro, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukrois an example of a desire for monumentality in these new cities, but Arch 22in the old Gambian capital of Banjuldisplays the same bravado.
Experimental designs have also appeared, most notably the
Eastgate Centre, Hararein Zimbabwe. With an advanced form of natural air-conditioning, this building was designed to respond precisely to Harare's climate and needs, rather than import less suitable designs. Neo- vernacular architecturecontinues, for instance with the Great Mosque of Nioroor New Gourna.
Other notable structures of recent years have been some of the world's largest
dams. The Aswan High Dam and Akosombo Damhold back the world's largest reservoirs. In recent years, there has also been renewed bridgebuilding in many nations, while the Trans-Gabon Railwayis perhaps the last of the great railways to be constructed.
Bibliotheca Alexandrinaat Shatby, Egypt -- a large airy spacious regional public library, built overlooking the Mediterranean -- completed in 2001 and designed by Snøhetta, in association with Hamza Associates of Cairo, is a good example of a modern granite-cladding construction. A commemoration of the Library of Alexandria, once the largest library in the world but destroyed in antiquity, the new Library's architecture is ultramodern and very non-traditional.
List of World Heritage Sites in Africa
Ancient Egyptian architecture
Great Zimbabwe National Monument
Tomb of Askia
Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture" (20th Edition, 1996), Ed Dan Cruickshank
*"African Art", Frank Willett
* [http://www.greatbuildings.com/places/africa.html Architecture of Africa - Great Buildings Online]
* [http://www.architectafrica.com Architect Africa Online - Contemporary Architects & Architecture of Africa]
* [http://arts.guardian.co.uk/critic/feature/0,1169,1081629,00.html Use of Mud ]
* [http://www.archnet.org/library/webpages/jamesmorris/ Butabu - Adobe Architecture of West Africa]
* [http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/198 Fractal Use in African Architecture]
* [http://www.mauritania.mr/fnsva/photo_tichit.htm Tichitt-Walata]
* [http://www.soutpansberg.com/history/mapungubwe.htm Mapungubwe]
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