African Architecture

African Architecture is the architecture of the African continent from north to south, from east to west, spanning pre-history to
Ba Ila village displaying self-similiarity, individual parts are
the same form of the whole, fractal traits common in Africa
ancient, medieval to modern. African Architecture deals with the artistic and technological application of African dwellings and accommodation of the human being. Most bias eurocentric scholarship has preferred to deal with the artistic aspect and ignore the technical and historical. Such scholarship has chosen to deal with the vernacular and ignore the historical monumental architecture-- tombs, walls, palaces, in support of the view that Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa lacks those structure, contrary to the accounts of European explorers, Arab traders, and other outside visitors to the continent. Ironically, the largest class of monumental structures in Africa are south of the Sahara, in Nigeria, Sungbo's Eredo and the Benin Walls. Of most recent development is the discovery of widespread use of fractal design within African art and architecture-- self-similiarity, in which the individual parts are of the same form as that of the whole.

The architectual achievements of ancient Egypt is second to none. Her technical and engineering achievements would impact all later civilizations of the Mediterranean and Near East--Persian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, and Christian. These later civilization would then have a significant influence on African Architecture. Egypt was the first to build in stone and use stone bricks and lime-base plaster. Many Mesopotamian structures did not survive antiquity because they were built of mudbrick. All later Mediterranean and Near Eastern civilization would use or build upon Egypt's engineering achievements. 

Islam and Christianity, rooted in the African Afroasiatic ethos, has left a great imprint on African Architecture. Islam has influenced Asian Architecture--the Middle East is where the faith was born. In Europe, the faith influenced the monumental castle architecture, Iberian Architecture, and imparted her technical know-how. Africa is no different. Her impact can be seen in Mediterranean Africa from Morocco to Egypt, the Sahelian-Sudanic strip from Senegal, Gambia, and Mali to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, the east coast to Mozambique. Sahelian Architecture, some have described as reproducing Mecca in adobe and wood. The coral base Great Mosque of Kilwa of the Swahili and the influential Mosque of El Kairouan from Tunis, all are based on Islamic norms.

Christianity took root early in Africa--North Africa and Northeast, Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Egypt and Nubia ( "Ethiopia") are mentioned in the Bible. Axum was one of the earliest state to make Christianity the state religion and the cross symbol of the state. Northeast Christianity had a Near Eastern Orthodox flavor, while Christianity in the rest of the continent a Catholic and Protestant flavor. Christian influence can be seen in the Coptic Church of Alexandria, the rock hewn Ethiopian churches in Lalibela, the remains of the mudbrick churches of the defunct Nubian Christian Church, and the introduction of European church designs, using native African materials, during the colonial era.   

Vernacular Architecture

African Vernacular Architecture extends to the beginning of the human species. Some African Vernacular Architecture seem to have developed among the proto-ethnolinguistic groups--Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo, and Khoisan groups. Among the Afroasiatic, the development of a rectangular floor plan and flat rectangular roof. Among the West African Niger-Congo forest dwellers rectangular floor plans with ridged roof or gable roof made of weaved palm. These structures would dot both sides of single streets or along the riverbanks with the riverbanks representing streets. Among Sudanic Nilo-Saharan, the cone shaped roofs and cylinder body or cone on cylinder developed. Dome shaped structures was the preference of the Khoisan(Ehret).

African Vernacular Architecture uses a variety of materials: grass, leaves, limestone, sandstone, coral, twigs, bamboo, raffia palm, hardwood, mangrove timber, papyrus reed, semi-dessert soil, high clay content soil or laterite soil, sewn goat skin, woven camel hair, mud, mudbrick. Mud might be mixed with shea butter, cattle blood, or cattle dung (antiseptic, termite and ant repellant)(Hull)(Ehret)(Britannica, African Architecture).  
Common broad categories of vernacular hut and house structures have been identified: 

   1. Domical (beehive)
   2. Cone on cylinder
   3. Cone on poles and mud cylinder
   4. Gabled roofed
   5. Pyramidal cone
   6. Rectangle with roof rounded and sloping at ends
   7. Square
   8. Dome or flat roof on clay box
   9. Quadrangular, surrounding an open courtyard
  10. Cone on ground(Hull  71)
  11. L shape plan 

The simplest structure is by far the scherms (shelter) of the San, which is nothing but a ditch in the ground(Britannica, African Architecture).

The cone on cylinder was the most common for agricultural settle communities south of the Sahara.  Pole would be planted and laced with mud. By mid 1100s, walls were being built with pure mud(Hull 51).

On the grassland of southern Africa, a preference for thatch base domical structures was observed. 
The hunter and gatherer, Hadza of Tanzania, also in the savannah, created domical structures of tied stick, with thatch on top(Britannica, African Architecture). These structures were quick to construct and required very little energy 

Thatched cone on ground was the preference of the Fipo of Tanzania and early Kanembu of Lake Chad.

Rectangular structures could also be found of indigenous roots, like the dwelling of the Massai, the Hehe, and Gogo of Tanzania(Hull). The home of the Massai was typically 20 ft high. A frame of leleshwa sticks and saplings were woven together. Leaves were added to the stick frame and cattle dung was used to plaster the structure. Massai homes were arranged in a circular fashion, around the cattle area--the manyatta(Britannica, African Architecture).  The Sebei built long rectangular structures on the slopes of Mount Elgon in Uganda. In West Africa, close to the Gold coast and around the White Volta River impressive clay based structures with flat roof and a central patio could be found. The Bangala of the Congo built along broad streets, long rectangular structures(Hull). The nomads like the Tuaregs built rectangular framed tents covered with goat skins sewn together.

Square dwellings were also present. Ethnique groups like the Panga in central Congo lived in square dwellings with sharp vertical roofs.

Berbers or Amazigh have adapted to hot weather by building homes underground two stories down, typically painted white interior.

Ancient Architecture

Egyptian Architecture

Great Pyramid

Egypt's achievements in architecture were varied from temples, enclosed cities, canals, and dams. The Egyptians were the first to engineer canals on a massive scale. Egyptians dug water-ways that run for kilometers used for both transportation and irrigation(Engineering an Empire: Egypt).

Because of flooding, Egyptians built dams. The Menes Dam, built to protect the city of Memphis is the first recorded dam in history. It did not survive antiquity
(Engineering an Empire: Egypt).

Tomb engineering was a major endeavor and lead to major architectural innovations. Initially tombs were made of mudbricks called mustabas. Mustabas consisted of surface level structure with different rooms and underground tombs cut out of bedrock. The structures were the beginning evolution of the pyramids. The first attemp at the building of a pyramid was the step pyramid at Saqqara by Pharaoh Djoser. Saqqara represent the first time in history stone architecture is used in the building of a major edifice. The complex consisted of a palace to the north and two buildings representing upper and lower Egypt. The pyramid complex was enclosed by a 3 story limestone wall. It's entranceway was lined with 40 stone columns, 33 ft high. The columns were the first 40 stone columns in recorded history. Later, Snefru , Djoser's heir attempted to build the first true pyramids. His first experiment was the Meydum Pyramid and later the Dashur Pyramid or Bent Pyramid. The first true pyramid was Snefru's Red Pyramid. Later, the largest and tallest pyramid the Great Pyramid of Giza would be built based on the earlier experiments
(Engineering an Empire: Egypt).

Fortification was a major aspect of Egyptian architecture. To retain territory and deal with threats from the south, Nubia, Pharaoh Sesotris built eight super-forts at Aswan, from Semna to Buhen, the first type architectural structures in the world on par with later Roman and European forts. The most famous was the Buhen Fort, which now resides under Lake Nasser. It could hold 1,000 soldiers. It comprised of multilayer wall and moat; first exterior wall, then moat, second wall with sections for archers. The forts were made of mudbricks
(Engineering an Empire: Egypt).

Numerous temples were built by the Egyptians, famous among them was the Temple of Deir El-Bahri built to honor Queen Hatshepsut (18th Dynasty), by architect Senimut. It's a three layered temple connected by ramps. Each layer is donned with colonnades. The third layer consist of a sanctuary with two chapels. Another was the rock carved temple at Abu-Simbel, built by Ramses II, consisting of  two atrium, the first atrium consisting of 8 giant statues, then a sanctuary, and side rooms. All were constructed by cutting one giant rock. The Karnak Temple built by Seti, contains 144 columns, seven stories high, with Great Hypostle Hall (Engineering an Empire: Egypt).

With the conquest of Egypt by Alexander we saw the development of Greek Architecture. The city of Alexandria is most representa
tive of Greek Architecture in Egypt. Roman architecture in Egypt included Trajan's Kiosk, Diana's Theater in Alexandria.

Nubian Architecture

More Info:Ngunden Pyramid

Massive Kerman Tumulus Tombs

Nubian Architecture is one of the most ancient in the world. The earliest style of Nubian Architecture include the speos, structures carved out of solid rock, an A-Group (3700-3250 B.C.E.) achievement. Egyptians made extensive use of the process at Speos Artemidos and Abu Simbel. A-Group eventually led to C-Group. C-Group began with lite supple materials: animal skins and wattle and daub. Later, larger structures of mudbricks became the norm. C-Group culture was related to Kerma. Kerma was settled around 2400 B.C. It was a walled city containing religious buildings, large circular dwelling, a palace, and well laid out roads. On the East side of the city, funnery temple and chapel were laid out. It supported a population of 2,000. One of its most endearing structure was the Deffufa, a mudbrick temple, where ceremonies were performed on top.

Between 1500-1085 B.C., Egyptian conquest and domination of Nubia was achieved.
Western Deffufa
This conquest brought about a new phase in Nubian history. Nubia was immensely influenced by Egypt and eventually conquered Egypt. Gebel Barkal in the town of Napata was a very significant site. Kushite pharaohs received legitimacy. Thirteen temples have been excavated and two palaces in Napata. Napata has yet to be fully excavated. Nubian pyramids were constructed on three major sites El Kurru, Nuri, and Meroe. Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt. Sudan contains 223 pyramids. They were smaller than Egyptian Pyramids. Nubian pyramids were for Kings and Queens. The general construction of Nubian pyramids consisted of steep walls, a chapel facing east, stairway facing east, and a chamber access via the stairway(Kendall The 25th Dynasty) (Kendall  The Meroitic State). The Meroe site has the most Nubian pyramids and is considered the largest archaeolological site in the world. Around AD 350, the area was invaded by the Ethiopian kingdom of Aksum and the kingdom collapsed(Giblin).

Maghreban Architecture

rendition of the city of Carthage

Carthaginian dwellings were comprise of apartments, 6 floors high. The city structures were mostly made of limestone. A technique of placing wood in grooves and then wetting the wood, resulting in expansion was used to cut stone. Most Carthaginians had ready access to water by making use of cisterns. Carthaginian apartments had tubs, sinks, and showers. Carthage had a unified system of sewage and pipe water. The city was surrounded by a 23 mile, three layered wall: an exterior wall made of stone, behind a taller 45 ft 30 ft wide wall, a ditch, and a low wall, packed with soil. It was the most formidable wall in all of the Mediterranean at that time. Carthage was situated in a large bay, which could hold hundreds of ships. Her architecture  was a mixture of various mediterranean styles, being her population was also from various nations in the region(Engineering an Empire: Carthage).
Masinissa's Tomb

With the destruction of Carthage by Rome, we see Roman Architecture taking root, with typical Roman traits: forums, arches, colliseums, baths, circus, citadels, and amphitheaters. Numerous Roman cities were founded. They include Volubilis in present day Morocco, Timgad and  Hippo Regius in Algeria, Bulla Regia and Thuburbo Majus in Tunisia, Sabratha and  Leptis Magna in Libya. Leptis Magna was the largest and most well preserved Roman city. Timgad is known for its Trajan's Arch.

Greek Architecture also existed in the city of Cyrene and Apollonia, in present day Libya. The regions were once Greek colonies.

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 the Tomb of the Christian Woman in Western Algeria. This structure contains column domed and spiraling pathways that lead to a single chamber.

Aksumite Architecture 

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

Aksumite Architecture flourished 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 (hawilts) 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 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 or two-storey square houses or roundhouses of sandstone with basalt foundations. Villas were generally two to four stories 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.

Mande Architecture

Tichitt Walata is the oldest surviving archaeological settlements in West Africa and the oldest all stone base settlement south of the Sahara, apart from the Nile. It was built by the 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 500 settlements(Fage  338,339)(Coquery-Vidrovitch 42,43).

Nok Architecture

Nok artifacts have been dated as far back as 790 B.C.E , located at the Jos Plateau in Nigeria, between the Niger and Benue river. From the excavation of Nok settlement in Samun Dikiya, there was the tendency to build on peaks. Huts were built with wattle and daub. Nok settlements have not been extensively excavated (Coquery-Vidrovitch 44-45).

Medieval Architecture

North Africa


With the arrival of Islam, unique architectural structures were introduced. The kasbah was a wall citadel of North African cities and towns. Famous kasbah are the Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou and Kasbah of the Udayas in Morocco. The ribat was a fortication, built in the frontiers and manned by murabituns or military volunteers during the Islamic conquest of North Africa, a good example is the the Ribat at Monastir. The medina a feature of most cities and towns are narrow walled maze-like walk-ways. Also souks or markets were found mostly outside towns or cities. Homes typically were enclosed structures centered around a courtyard. The exterior had few windows or opennings, but the interior would be elaborate with walls decorated with tiles. The Moroccan Riad would be very reflective of North African common dwelling. Another feature of North African architecture are hammams,  public places to take a bath. They usually are decorated with tiles in the interior.

Famous mosques were built like the mosque of Tin Mal, Bab Berdieyinne Mosque, and Great Mosque of Morocco, the Great Mosque of Algiers, the Great Mosque of Tlemcen in Algeria; the Great Mosque of Tunis or Zaituna Mosque, the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunis, and the Mosque of Al-Naqah in Libya.

Famous madrasas include Madrasa Bou Inania, University of Al-Karaouine in Morocco.


Egyptian Islamic architecture is as varied as her ancient architecture. With the arrival of Islam, Cairo founded by Arabs, became the heart of Egypt. The city was surrounded by walls with gates for control of access. Gates such as Bab El-Nasr, Bab El-Fotouh, and Bab-Zowaila still remain.

We see various architectual style developing from the different historical periods. From the Fatimid period, we see famous mosques like Al-Azhar, Mosque of al-Hakim, and the Mosque of al-Aqmar in Cairo. The Ayyubites era saw much military architecture, like fortresses. The Citadel of Salah Al-Din and the Fort of Al-Muzaffar are the most representative. The era instituted a new type of architecture for charity, such as houses for the poor and public water fountains.

The Mameluk period also continued the tradition of great architecture, and architecture of charity. Mosques include the Mosque of Farag, Mosque of Barsbey. Much unique to Mamluk architecture was the madrassa and mausoleum of the Sultan Qait Bey. Tombs included Tomb of Barquq, Tomb of Barsbey, and Tomb of Qait Bey. Mameluke architecture is known for using bright stones and tiles. Example of Mameluke's charity architecture was Sultan Qalawun's Maristan or hospital, which was connected to a madrassa.

The Ottoman period saw vibrant architecture. The most representative was the Palace of Amir Bashtak and Suleiman Pasha Mosque.

West Africa

West African architecture can be broken into two geographical zones the Sahel and the Forest Zones. Most cities, towns, and villages contained roads, market places, plazas, public water wells. Cities were encircled by walls for security, economic prosperity, social cohesion, and spiritual reasons. Internal walls were also used to keep the king hidden and nobility separate. The king was viewed as divine, not to be seen or spoken to by the commoner. Big roads, avenues were setup in a gridiron fashion connected by smaller roads in a concentric manner linking to other avenues in cities. Roads would meander into the surrounding towns and villages. It was the responsibility of the chief of the village or town to maintain roads within his domain, especially big roads, typical of west African villages and towns. Market places, plazas were essential features of West African architecture. It served as a means of transferring information, news of the day and going ons. In big cities, sections were usually reserved for certain ethnic groups.


With the arrival of Islam, we see islamic architecture take root. Sahelian architecture
Timbucktu, notice beehive towers
can be described as reproducing Mecca in adobe and wood. Town mosque in western and central Sahel took a form similiar to the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Tunis and early mosque in Morocco. Like North African mosque, they were squared or rectangular structure, conforming to Malekite norms. Sahelian architecture initially grew from the two cities of Djenné and Timbuktu. The Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu, constructed from mud on timber, was similar in style to the Great Mosque of Djenné. This style spread southeastern to Ghana and then to Hausaland. It fused with a Tunisian style, brought by Tunisian fleeing Ottoman invasion of Tunis in 1534. Three other styles have been noted: Bobo Dioulasso Mosque, Kong Mosque,  Kawara Mosque.
Djenne house exterior, common in the Sahel

During the 1500s, Djenne had 11 city gates, a source of revenue for the government. Djenné houses were two stories and made of mud-brick, square or cylindrical. The roofs were flat. The houses surrounded a courtyard. The front were laid with pilaster structures with few opening except with a window above the entrance portico. The edge of the roof was layered with parapets and wood structures thrusting outwards called torons, 60 cm. Torons acted as scaffolding. Most houses would have to be replastered every three years. Mud-brick material were made of hay and mud. The plastering material was made of mud and rice husk.


At 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.

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 sculptures and painting (Basil 86). 
Kings were buried with unique ritual traditions. 

On the death of a ghana, tombs were ritually built. A hut of wood would be constructed first constructed.The ghana was placed inside. The ghana's personal items, utensils, and servants were burried with him. Individuals would then cover the hut with mats and cloth. Dirt would later be thrown on the hut until it was completely covered, resembling a mound. A ditch would then be dug around the mound, leaving one access point to the tomb.


According to Al-barkri, the king residence of the capital of Songhay, Gao, was a fortress surrounded by female statues, all around.


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
Kano City
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.(Coquery-Vidrovitch 106-107) The Mai could not be seen by the public. Mosques were clay-box structures.

Hausa and Fulani

Layout of Hausa city, Katsina

Six important Hausa city states existed Kano, Katsina, Daura, Gobir, Zazzau(Zaria), and Biram. Kano was the most important. The city was surrounded by a wall of re-inforced 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 was the abode of unmarried women. Further down were slave quarters(Coquery-Vidrovitch 123-126).

Initially of greater importance than Kano was Zaria, the first capital of the Hausa Kingdom. During the 1500s, Queen Amina built a hundred mile mud wall surrounding the city(Hull 33). Hausa cities had immense gates made of termite resistant palm wood covered with iron plates(Hull 36).

During the Sokoto Caliphate, a new fortification structure was introduced the ribat, stronghold villages on the northern frontiers, Gobir and Zamfara. Fulani's had conquered the Hausa city states and prevented Hausa leadership from recapturing their cities.

Forest Zone

Akan and Ashanti

Ashanti shrine
Ashanti Architecture is perhaps best known from the reconstruction at Kumasi. Its key features are courtyard-based
street in Kumasi, Ashanti capital
buildings, and walls with striking reliefs in mud plaster brightly painted. An example of a shrine can be seen at Bawjwiasi in 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 average house like the shrine, had four rectangular rooms surrounding a courtyard. Some were 2 to 3 stories in height and could hold 80 people. The side facing the street would sometimes have storefronts, trade shops, or balcony. Roofs were made of palm leaves. A trellis embedded with clay formed the wall.

Major long avenues, on a north/south orientation, occupied the Ashanti state and Akan towns. Side streets joined into major avenues at right angles. All major avenues in Kumasi had names(Hull 41).

The palace of the Asantehene was a huge structure containing 12 oblong courts, with arcades on one side and squares. Its walls were decorated with adinkra symbols.


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. Large ceremonial roads described as one hundred and twenty feet wide occupied Benin. Thirty of these large roads existed in 1602.

The Oba's compound was describe as large as the town of 
nnHaarlem divided into many palaces, apartments, and houses(Hull 112).
The palace had a sequence of ceremonial rooms, and was decorated with brass plaques. Internally the palace had very long galleries supported by fifty columns, that lead to a mud wall with three gates. Casted copper snakes occupied the top of each gate. Behind the middle gate was a quarter square mile plaza, surrounded by low mud walls, leading to four more galleries, adorned with metal sculptures, the famous Benin pictorial plaques. At the end was the royal chamber. Ordinary people were not allowed to gaze at the Oba(Hull 34).

Benin city was enclosed by massive extensive walls. The Walls of Benin City is the world's largest man-made structure.
Fred Pearce wrote in New scientist:

"They extend 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 four times longer than 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 perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet(Pearce 113)"

Yoruba and Oyo

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 palace or afin of Old Oyo's Alafin,  was a 640 acre or 1 square mile compound( Hull).

The most famous of Yoruba fortifications and the 2nd largest wall edifice in Africa is Sungbo's Eredo. It is made up of sprawling mud walls and the valleys that surrounded the
n town of Ijebu-Ode in Ogun state. Sungbo's Eredo is the second largest pre-colonial monument in Africa, larger than the Great Pyramid or Great Zimbabwe.


More Info: Nsude Pyramids

Igbo, Nsude pyramids

Igbo architectural layout took a clustering patern. It was not a town, city but a series of family compounds connected via wooded paths radiating to and from a central meeting place. A still wider path would lead to a larger area for more extended family. This central area would connect to a path leading to the marketplace.

One of the unique structures of Igbo culture is the Nsude Pyramids. Ten pyramidal structures were built of clay. The first base section was 60 ft in circumference and 3 ft height. The next stack was 45 ft in circumference. Circular stacks continued, till it reached the top. The structures were temples for the god Ala, who resided at the top. A stick was placed at the top to represent the god's residence. The structures were laid in groups of five parallel to each other(Basden 109).

East Africa

In the Hyrax Hills above lake Nakuru, stone foundation village dating to the neolithic period have been found. It displays great similiarity to the stone foundation of the Transvaal.

Engaruka is a ruined settlement on the slopes of Mount Ngorongoro in northern Tanzania. Seven stone terraced villages along the mountainside comprised the settlement. A complex structure of stone channel irrigation was used to dike, dam, and level surrounding river waters. The stone channels run along the mountainside and base. Some of these channels were several kilometers long channelling and feeding individual plots of land. The irrigation channels fed a total area of 5000 acres(Hull xvii)
(Shillington 1368).

Nubia (Christian and Islamic)

The Christianization of Nubia began in the 6 century A.D. Its most representative architecture are churches. They are based on Byzantium Basilica's. The structures are relatively small and made of mud bricks. Vernacular architecture of the Christian period is scarce. Architecture of Soba is the only one that has been excavated. The structures are of sun dried bricks, same as present day Sudan, except for an arch. During the Fatimide phase of Islam, about the eleventh century, Nubia converted to islam and became Arabised. Its most important mosque was the mosque of Derr(Shinnie Medieval Nubia).

Horn of Africa


Throughout the medieval period, Ethiopian 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 100 km 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.


Lake Plateau


In western Uganda, one finds numerous earthworks near the Katonga River. These earthworks have been affiliated with the Empire of Kitara. The most famous Bigo Bya Mugenyi is about four square miles with the Katonga River on one side. The earthwork ditch was dug out by lifting cutting through solid bedrock and earth, about 200,000 cubic meters. It was about 12 feet high. It is not certain whether the function was for defense or pastoral use. Very little is known about the Ugandan earthworks(Tracy 24-25).


The capital (kibuga) of Buganda constantly changed from hill to hill, with each
change of kabaka. In the late 19th century, a permanent kibuga of Buganda was established at Mengo Hill. 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. Individual huts were conical in shape made of thatch(Hull 7). Poles were arranged and anchored, thick bladed grass were placed on top to make walls. Barkcloth would be used to divide homes into individual rooms(Moss,and Wilson 68).

The city was a mile and half wide. Large plots of land were available for planting bananas and fruits. Roads were wide and well maintained.( Coquery-Vidrovitch  74-75). Each avenue was fenced with water cane(matete), stacked uniformly. Side streets were narrow and crooked moving into other large avenues(Hull 42).

The kabaka lived in a massive reed dome palace 20 feet high and 30 feet in diameter. The royal enclosure of the kabaka was surrounded by a twelve foot fence, made of reeds and intricately woven elephant grass(Hull 50).


Mwami Palace Source: Access Rwanda Safaris
Nyanza was a royal capital of Rwanda. The king's residence the ibwami was built on a
Mwami's ibwami or dwelling
hill. The royal compound 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(Coquery-Vidrovitch 69-70).

Litered along-side the hills were rugos, typical Rwandan dwelling structures.They were circular enclosures, fences made of 6 feet ficus hedges with behive shaped huts, made out reed and thatch. Rugos contained granaries and huts dedicated to ancestor spirits. The entranceway was called umuryongo, which would be closed at with trees and thorns. Rugos were surrounded by designated fields, where cattle would roam during the daytime. Cattle would be brought inside and would occupy the central area, the kraal. Rugos were independent  social units. Occupants from other rugos did not wonder uninvited (Dorsey, Learthen(1944).Historical Dictionary of R 352).


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 compound 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 
(Coquery-Vidrovitch, Catherine. 2005, pp. 68-69). Hills were also littered with rugos, like Rwanda.

Swahili States

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. 199-218-220). One of the earliest examples of monumental Swahili Architecture is the trade emporium, palace of Husuni Kubwa, lying west of Kilwa, built about 1245. As with many other early Swahili buildings, coral was the main construction material, and the roof was constructed by attaching coral to timbers. It contained fluted conical vaults and domes. One hundred rooms with courtyards, terraces, and a sunken swimming pool..

Contrastingly, the palace at Kilwa was a two-story tower, in a walled enclosure.

Other notable structures from the period include the pillar tombs at Malindi and Mnarani in Kenya, and elsewhere, originally built from coral but later from stone. Later examples include Zanzibar's stone towns, with its famous carved doors, and the Great Mosque of Kilwa. Intricately carved doors were a unique element in Swahili townhouses, found in Zanzibar and other homes along the East African coast(Hull 105, 108).

Madagascar and Merina

Madagascan homes are rectangular in shape, indicative of its Asian Indonesian influence. They are oriented in a north/south direction.The basic shape is retained but built with different material depending on area. In the plateau region, rectangular huts were built with mudbrick and in the coastal areas wood, bamboo, or palm. Most homes had one bedroom, some houses had a door on the east side for burial. In Merina, houses are two stories and most occupants lived upstairs. Some houses are on stilts. Some houses are portable, like those of the Zafimaniry.

Madagascar has unique tomb structures. Tombs are adorned with wooden stellae.

Central Africa


Kongo Village , displaying home form and shape

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.

Evolution of the Negro home; D... Digital ID: 1219110. New York Public Library


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 with a steeple crown pyramidal roof not taller than 14 feet. The palace was in the center of the city(Coquery-Vidrovitch 83) (Hull  59).


The Luba tended to cluster in small villages, with rectangular houses facing a single street. Kilolo, patrilineal chieftains, headed local village government, under the protection of the king. Cultural life centered around the kitenta, the royal compound, which later came to be a permanent capital. The kitenta drew artists, poets, musicians and craftsmen, spurred by royal and court patronage.


The Lunda Empire (western) established its capital 100 kilometers from Kassai in open woodland, between two rivers 15 kilometers apart. It was surrounded by fortified earthen ramparts. and dry moats about 30 plus kilometers. The Mwato Yamvo's compound musumba was surrounded with large fortification of double layered live trees or wood ramparts. The musumba had multiple courtyards with designated functions, straight roads, and public squares. It was zoomorphic in construction, shaped like a turtle(Bargna 55). Limbs coresponded with function and family clan. Its immense hygenic and cleanly value was noted by European observers(Birmingham 95).

Eastern Lunda

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(Davidson  343-344).


The Maravi 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.

Southern Africa

In Southern Africa one finds ancient and widespread traditions of building in stone. Two broad categories of these tradition have been noted: 1. Zimbabwean style 2. Transvaal Free State style. North of the Zambezi one finds very little stone ruins(Dierks The Great Namibian Settlement).


Great Zimbabwe ruins

Mapungubwe is considered the most socially complex society in southern Africa.
ruins of Khami
The first southern African culture to display economic differentiation. The elite was separated on a mountain settlement, made of sandstone. It was the precursor to Great Zimbabwe. Large tracks of dirt was carried to the top of the hill. At the bottom of the hill was a natural amphipheater and at the top elite graveyard. There was only two pathway to the top, one was a narrow steep cleft along the side of the hill which observers at the top had a clear.

Great Zimbabwe is 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. It required 182,000 cubic feet of stonework(Hull 36). Rocks would be heated and rapidly cooled with water, to be cut into slabs(Hull 37). Stones were laid into three styles herringbone, chevron, cord, and checkerboard. Houses within the enclosure were circular and constructed of wattle and daub, with conical thatched roofs.
ruins of Dhlo Dhlo

Other sites contemporary with Great Zimbabwe were Matendere and Thulamela. Matendere was located one hundred miles northeast of Great Zimbabwe. The structures were described as square fortresses, with walls 25 spans(appr. 19 ft) in width. One structure was described as a tower 12 fathom (72 ft) high.
ruins of Naletale

Thulamela was a counterpart of Great Zimbabwe that displayed similar architectural design and method.

Khami the capital of the Torwa State and the successor of the techniques of Great Zimbabwe were further refined and developed. Elaborate walls were constructed by connecting carefully cut stones forming terraced hills . Other sites of similiar construct were Naletali and Dhlo Dhlo.


Sotho/Tswana Architecture represent the other stone building tradition of southern Africa, centered in the transvaal, highveld north and south of the Vaal. Numerous large stonewalled enclosures and stoned housed foundations have been found in the region(Shillington 151). The capital Molokweni of the Kwena(Tswana) was a stoned wall town as large as the Eastern Lunda capital(Iliffe 122).

Zulu and Nguni

More Info: Zulu Architecture

Umgungundhlovu, Zulu militarize kraal
Zulu Architecture was constructed with perishable materials. Initially, Zulus built Dome shaped huts, but later built dome over cylinder walls. Zulu capitals were elliptical in shape. The exterior was lined with durable wood palisade. Domed huts in rows of 6 through 8 lined the elliptical interior. In the center of the capital city was the kraal, used by the king to examine his soldiers and cattle, or to hold ceremonies. It was an empty circular area at the center of the capital, lined with less durable palisades. The entrance of the city was opposite to the highly fortified Royal Enclosure called the Isigodlo. This was the general makeup of Zulu capitals Mgungundlovu(King Dingane's capital) and Ulundi(King Cetshwayo's capital).

Ndebele Architecture


||Khauxa!nas was a wall construct in southeastern Namibia built by Oorlam(Khoi). Its perimeter was 700 meters and 2 meters in height. It was built with stone slabs and displays features of both the Zimbabwean and Transvaal Free State style of stone construction(Dierks  ||KHAUXA!NAS)( Shillington  151).

Modern architecture

Fasiledes's castle, 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, naturally hard to 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-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 Jesus and 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 Palace of Kumasi.

By the late nineteenth century, most buildings reflected the fashionable European eclecticism and pastisched Mediterranean, or even Northern European, styles. Examples of colonial towns from this era survive at Saint-Louis, Senegal, Grand-Bassam and elsewhere. A few buildings were pre-fabricated in 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'andu in what is now Zambia, or the Boer homesteads in South Africa, and with many town buildings.

The revival of interest in traditional styles can be traced to Cairo in the early 19th century. This had spread to Algiers and Morocco by the early twentieth century, from which time colonial buildings across the continent began to pastiche elements of traditional African architecture, the Jamia Mosque in Nairobi being a typical example. In some cases, architects attempted to mix local and European styles, such as at Bagamoyo.

The impact of modern architecture began to be felt in the 1920s and 1930s. Le Corbusier designed several unbuilt schemes for Algeria, including ones for Nemours and for the reconstruction of Algiers. Elsewhere, Steffen Ahrens was active in South Africa, and Ernst May in Nairobi and Mombasa.

The Italian futurists saw Asmara as an opportunity to build their designs. Planned villages were constructed in Libya and Italian East Africa, including the new town of Tripoli, all utilising modern designs.

After 1945, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew extended 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, Zwiefel and 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 Transvaal in South Africa, who built homes inspired by Walter Gropius and 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 Yamoussoukro is an example of a desire for monumentality in these new cities, but Arch 22 in the old Gambian capital of Banjul displays the same bravado.

Experimental designs have also appeared, most notably the Eastgate Centre, Harare in 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 architecture continues, for instance with the Great Mosque of Nioro or New Gourna.

Other notable structures of recent years have been some of the world's largest dams. The Aswan High Dam and Akosombo Dam hold back the world's largest reservoirs. In recent years, there has also been renewed bridge building in many nations, while the Trans-Gabon Railway is perhaps the last of the great railways to be constructed.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina at 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.

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