Ten Stunning Yet Little Known Ancient Treasures Across Africa
The continent of Africa contains a plethora of ancient wonders, yet very few of them are well-known internationally or attract tourists from across the world. From over a thousand stone circles concentrated in a small area to ruins of great cities, megalithic calendars that predate the pyramids by tens of thousands of years, and the remains of towns that have seen the rise and fall of countless civilizations, there is no shortage of awe-inspiring sites across the continent. Here we feature just ten incredible sites that are little known in the wider world.
It is amazing that the Senegambian Stone Circles are not more well-known considering there are more than 1,000 of them spread over an area that is 100 km wide and 350 km in length in the countries of Gambia and Senegal in West Africa. Of the 1000 stone circles, 93 of them have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. These include the Sine Ngayène complex in Senegal, as well as the Wanar, Wassu and Kerbatch complexes in Gambia. Apart from these stone circles, the sites also contain numerous tumuli and burial mounds.
To construct these stone circles, the ancient builders were first required to identify suitable lateritic outcrops for the carving of the stones. Having found the suitable laterite, they were then cut and extracted from the quarry. This was no easy feat as the stones needed to be removed in one piece. At quarry sites, monoliths that were broken in the course of extraction were of no value and were left there. Finally, the extracted monoliths were transported and erected at various sites along the River Gambia. Imagine this process being repeated for tens of thousands of monoliths, and you get a sense of the massive scale of the Senegambian Stone Circles.
Ghadames is a large oasis town in the region of Tripolitania, which is situated in the north western part of Libya. This town sits on Libya’s border with Algeria and Tunisia, and is commonly referred to as the ‘pearl of the desert’. It has been suggested, based on archaeological evidence, that this area has been settled since the 4th millennium B.C., and is one of the oldest pre-Saharan settlements. This is little wonder, as its situation near a water source in the middle of a desert would have made it an important spot for anyone seeking to settle in the area.
Written records about Ghadames only appear much later during the Roman period. During the 1st century B.C., the Roman proconsul Lucius Cornelius Balbus was sent to invade Ghadames. During that period, Ghadames was known as Cydamus (from which its present name is derived from). A permanent Roman garrison was later established at the site during the reign of Septimius Severus. This was probably due to the need to protect Roman lands from the incursions of desert nomads to the south. The Crisis of the Third Century, however, drained the Roman economy, and the Roman garrison was forced to withdraw from Ghadames. In the following centuries, Ghadames became a Byzantine town, and subsequently conquered by the Muslim Arabs. From the latter period until the 19th century, Ghadames played an important role in the Sub-Saharan trade due to its strategic geographical position. Although none of the surviving buildings at Ghadames can be dated to its earliest phases, or even to the Roman period, it has an outstanding domestic architectural style that sets it apart from other pre-Saharan cities and settlements.
Zimbabwe is home to one of the most stunning historical monuments in Africa – the monument of the Great Zimbabwe. The name ‘Zimbabwe’ is an anglicized form of an African word meaning ‘stone houses’, for the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe are comprised of several stone walls, monuments, and buildings built mainly of granite. The internal structure contains many passageways and enclosures. It spans almost 1800 acres of the southeastern area of the country of Zimbabwe. While it may seem that the structure was named after the country, it is actually the other way around.
It is estimated that construction spanned more than 300 years, and that the complexes housed a civilization of up to 18,000 people. The Great Zimbabwe would have been used as a political seat of power, serving as a palace for the Zimbabwean monarch. Built 900 years ago, it is not known who constructed the Great Zimbabwe, but there are several groups that may have been involved, including the Bantu people of the Gokomere, ancestors of the Southern African ethnic group known as the Lemba or Venda, or a branch of the Shona-speaking people known as the Karanga.