Architectural Wonders of Africa
Bete Giyorgis (Lalibela, Ethiopia)
Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia that is famous around the world for its monolithic rock-cut churches carved from the living rock, which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture. The town is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. The Bete Giyorgis or Church of St. George, is one of eleven monolithic churches in the city. Carved from solid red volcanic rock in the 12th century, it is the best known and last built of the eleven churches in the Lalibela area, and has been referred to as “the eighth wonder of the world.” Lalibela, the king of Ethiopia who the city was named after, sought to recreate Jerusalem, and structured the churches’ landscape and religious sites to that end.
Corinthia Hotel Khartoum (Khartoum , Sudan)
The Corinthia Hotel Khartoum is a five-star hotel in central Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, at the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers, and in the center of the city’s commercial, business, and administrative districts. The elegant architectural masterpiece of steel and glass opened on Aug. 17, 2008. It has 18 guest floors, 173 rooms and 57 suites, all offering panoramic views of the city and the Nile. The building has an oval curved facade because it was designed to resemble a ship’s sail.
Aksum’s Giant Stelae (Ethiopia)
The ruins of the ancient city of Aksum are located close to Ethiopia’s northern border. They mark the location of the heart of ancient Ethiopia, when the Kingdom of Aksum was the most powerful state between the Eastern Roman Empire and Persia. The massive ruins, dating from between the first and 13th centuries, include monolithic obelisks, giant stelae, royal tombs and the ruins of ancient castles. These obelisks, also called stelae, are known to be the tallest single pieces of stone ever quarried and erected in the ancient world. Their age and use is a complete mystery to archaeologists and historians.
Reunification Monument (Yaounde, Cameroon)
Designed by Cameroonian sculptor Gédéon Mpando and completed in 1974, the Reunification Monument was constructed to be the most visible symbol of the unification of the two Cameroons. The twin spirals symbolize the joining together of the Francophone and Anglophone regions of nation. The monument was built in the capital city, Yaoundé, and was intended to be one of Cameroon’s major tourist attractions, just as the Eiffel Tower is in Paris.
Walls of Great Zimbabwe (Masvingo, Zimbabwe)
Great Zimbabwe was an ancient city in the southeastern hills near the town of Masvingo. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country’s Late Iron Age, and served as a royal palace and the seat of political power for the Zimbabwean monarch. One of its most prominent, enduring and impressive features are its stone walls, some of which were over 36 feet high extending over long serpentine courses. The magnificent structures with remarkably finished surfaces were constructed by stacking granite stones, one on top of another, without mortar.
The ancestors of the Shona people began construction of these great walls in the 11th century and continued until the 14th century, spanning an area of 722 hectares (1,780 acres) which, at its peak, could have housed up to 18,000 people. In the 1800s, European travelers and English colonizers, stunned by Great Zimbabwe’s grandeur and workmanship, attributed the architecture to foreign powers. Such attributions were dismissed when archaeological investigations conducted during the first decades of the 20th century confirmed both the antiquity of the site and its African origins.
Alice Lane Towers ( Johannesburg, South Africa)
With a curved facade constructed out of concrete, glass and aluminum, the Alice Lane Towers are intended to demonstrate South Africa’s progression in exploring new forms within corporate architecture. The 17-story towers boasts being the first high-rise building in South Africa to use a curved and completely glazed facade, made with low-energy glass and state-of-the-art glass-printing technology. Viewed from all angles, the building, which was built in the suburbs of Johannesburg in 2010, presents a uniquely patterned and highly abstracted surface of architectural elements that change constantly with the time and atmosphere of the day.
The Great Mosque of Djenne (Djenne, Mali)
The Great Mosque of Djenné is a large banco or adobe building that is considered by many architects to be one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style. The mosque is located in the city of Djenné, Mali, on the flood plain of the Bani River. The first mosque on the site was built around the 13th century, but the current structure dates from 1907. As well as being the center of the community of Djenné, it is one of the most famous landmarks in Africa.
House in Warri, Nigeria
Few details are known about on this fascinating home in Warri, Nigeria, however images of the unfinished, unmaintained, yet still beautiful property have managed to wow those who have stumbled upon it online. The building embodies the blending of old and new, with traditional African artwork and shapes accenting a modern structure. It may serve as an example of how Africans can maintain the cultural themes present in their traditional architecture, even as the continent rapidly modernizes building techniques.
Pyramids of Giza (Al-Jīzah, Egypt)
Pyramids of Giza are the three 4th dynasty (c. 2575 – c. 2465 BCE) pyramids erected on the rocky plateau of the west bank of the Nile River near Al-Jīzah (Giza) in Egypt (formerly known as Kemet or Kmt). The designations of the pyramids — Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure —correspond to the kings for whom they were built.
The northernmost and oldest pyramid of the group was built for Khufu, the second king of the 4th dynasty. Called the Great Pyramid, it is the largest of the three, with the length of each side at the base averaging 755.75 feet (230 meters) and its original height towering 481.4 feet (147 meters). Perhaps the most colossal single building ever erected on the planet, its sides rise at an angle of 51°52′ and are accurately oriented to the four cardinal points of the compass. Approximately 2.3 million blocks of stone were cut, transported and assembled to create the 5.75-million-ton structure, which is widely seen as a masterpiece of technical skill and engineering ability.
Nubian pyramids (Northern Sudan)
The Nubian pyramids were built from the fourth century B.C. to third century A.D. Nubia, which was known as Kush and is modern-day Sudan, rivaled its neighbor Egypt in wealth and power, and both empires mutually influenced each other. Nubia has 223 pyramids, doubling the number in Egypt. Prior to the Kushites building their pyramids, there had been no pyramid construction in Egypt and the Nile Valley for more than 500 years.
Built to house the bodies of kings and queens, the underground graves of the Nubian pyramids were richly decorated. They were all eventually plundered, most infamously by Italian explorer Giuseppe Ferlini (1800-1870) who smashed the tops from 40 pyramids in a quest for treasure in the 1820s.
Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons, Mali)
The Cliff of Bandiagara, Land of the Dogons, is a vast cultural landscape of Mali. The sandstone cliff rises about 500 meters above the lower sandy plateau to the south. It has a length of approximately 150 kilometers. The area of the escarpment is inhabited today by the Dogon people. Their beautiful architecture (houses, granaries, altars, sanctuaries and Togu Na, or communal meeting-places) accent the regions exceptional geological and environmental features. It is extremely difficult to access, and the existence of a series of secret tunnels rendered it an effective means of defense for the Dogon in the face of formidable invaders. Thanks to this defensive shelter of buildings entrenched on the plateau and clinging to cliff faces, the Dogon were able to conserve their centuries-old culture and traditions. Their architecture has adapted to benefit from the physical constraints of the land and their exploitation of the all the available elements to build their villages reflect their ingenuity, making the Bandiagara dwellings one of Africa’s most impressive sites.