Ten Stunning Yet Little Known Ancient Treasures Across Africa
Following the collapse of the Kingdom of Kush during the 4th century BC, a political vacuum was left in the region it controlled, now modern day Sudan and southern Egypt. This void was filled by the emergence of a number of smaller Nubian kingdoms. The most well-known of these successor states was the Kingdom of Dongola, or Makuria, which had its capital in the city of Old Dongola, located on the east bank of the Nile. The modern city of Dongola is situated 80 km (49.7 miles) downstream on the opposite side of the bank.
Whilst the Kingdom of Dongola may be the most widely known successor of the Kingdom of Kush, its origins are rather obscure. It has been suggested that during the 8th century AD, Makuria united with its northern neighbor, Nobatia, perhaps under King Merkurios, to form a single state. The site chosen to serve as the kingdom’s new capital was Old Dongola, which was originally a fortress built during the 5th century AD.
One of the most distinct features of the Kingdom of Dongola is that it was a Christian Kingdom. It is recorded that during the 6th century BC, Christianity was propagated in the Nile Valley from Aswan all the way south to the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile at modern day Khartoum. In 1993, a 900-year-old crypt was discovered in a monastery there. In the crypt, archaeologists discovered the naturally mummified remains of seven males. On the walls of the crypt were inscriptions written in Greek and Sahidic Coptic. These inscriptions included excerpts from the four Gospels, magical names, as well as signs and a prayer given by the Virgin Mary, which were placed there to protect the occupants of the crypt from the forces of evil.
UNESCO World Heritage sites are not only renowned for their cultural and natural importance, but are often used in the film industry. At the Ksar of Ain-Ben-Haddou, numerous films have been shot, including Oliver Stone’s 2004 film, ‘Alexander’, Stephen Sommer’s ‘The Mummy’ (1999) and John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975).
The Ksar of Ain-Ben-Haddou is a fortified city located in the Ouarzazate province along the old caravan trade route between Marrakech and the Sahara. It consists of a group of buildings built entirely of local organic material, and covered by a rich red mud plaster. These buildings, which were mostly houses, were surrounded by high walls. The defensive function of the walls was reinforced by the construction of corner towers. Apart from the domestic buildings, there were also public structures, including a mosque, a caravanserai, a sanctuary of a local saint, and a public square. Thus, the collection of buildings in the Ksar is a unique showcase of the various pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques. According to local belief, the Ksar was founded in 757 A.D. by Ben-Haddou, whose tomb is said to lie somewhere behind the city.
The Ksar and other fortified towns in the area may owe their existence to the presence of the Trans-Saharan Trade Route. This route connected the North African coast, Europe, and the Levant to sub-Saharan Africa. Trade goods, including gold, salt, and African slaves passed through these routes beginning in ancient times, and reaching a peak between the 8th century A.D. and the late 16th century A.D. With such traffic along the trade route, it would be reasonable for locals to take advantage of the situation and earn a living by providing shelter, food and drink to the travelling merchants. The presence of such valuable trade goods in their towns, however, would have attracted bandits or raiding nomads. Therefore, defensive walls were necessary to ensure the safety of both the inhabitants of the city and their wealthy customers.
Thousands of years ago, humans from the Neolithic age, decorated the walls of rock shelters with paintings of animals and humans at a site called Laas Geel in present day Somalia. Their work would last at least 5,000 years, and would one day attract the attention of the 21st century. The caves provide a glimpse into the little known history of this part of the world. Even with the history of political instability, war, natural weathering, and other factors, the paintings have survived intact, retaining their clear outlines and vibrant colors. They are thought to be among the best and oldest preserved rock paintings in Africa.