The burning of the Notre Dame Cathedral has brought out a lot of talk. No one died in the fire, and the cathedral didn't totally burn to the ground. The French state owns the building and is its own insurer, and thus bears the entire risk. People were touched by the story of the cathedral fire and showed up in droves to donate to the French state, sparking a debate on charity especially after billionaires pledged large sums of money to the church when no such charitable actions were shown towards those affected by Cyclone Idai and other disasters. It was especially questionable for Africans to be pledging donations to the French state. Why pledge donations to a former colonial master that devastated, and still continues to devastate, the continent? Why not pledge donations to our own African monuments, if anything? So here are 5 African monuments that you should know and should consider spending your efforts on instead.
1. The Great Wall of Benin
Historians consider The Great Wall of Benin to be the most important architectural work ever done in the history of man. Ever. That should tell you how great it was. At 16,000km long, it was 4 times longer than the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall of Benin was 8m high and was made by the Edo Civilisation, a prosperous people who lived between 800 and 1890 AD in present-day southern Nigeria. Its reinforced earth construction required 100 times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct.
The Dutchman Olfert Dapper who visited Benin City in the 17th Century wrote, "The houses in this city are in good order as in Holland." A Portuguese captain described the city in 1691, “Great Benin, where the king resides, is larger than Lisbon; all the streets run straight and as far as the eye can see. The houses are large, especially that of the king, which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well governed that theft is unknown and the people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses.” This was at a time when theft and murder were rife in London.
Ethnomathematician Ron Eglash commented, "When Europeans first came to Africa, it never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they (Europeans) hadn’t even discovered yet." Fractal geometry and the binary system were used in Africa before the West got wind of them.
The Great Wall of Benin was destroyed by the British during the Punitive Expeditions where the British captured, burned and looted Benin City. Much of the stolen riches of Benin City are now located in British museums where the British flaunt them as their own.
2. Kano City Walls
The Kano City Walls were ancient defensive walls built to protect the inhabitants of the ancient city of Kano, Nigeria. They were built between 1095 through 1134, completed in the middle of the 14th Century, and further expanded during the 16th Century. They are described as the most impressive monument in West Africa.
The walls originally had an estimated height of 30 to 50 ft and about 40 ft thick at the base. The fortification covered an area of 24km and all entry and exit to the city - which at the time was home to an estimated 50,000 people - was through one of 13 giant gates manned by security guards.
The city was a centre for Islamic studies and a thriving trading hub with abundant water and rich iron deposits. The wall was built during the reigns of the Hausa Kingdom and the Fulani Empire. According to historians, the then General-Governor of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, Fredrick Lugard, wrote in a 1903 report about the Kano Walls that he had “never seen anything like it in Africa” after capturing the ancient city of Kano along with British forces. The wall is a UNESCO heritage site. Large parts of the wall, which is more than 1,000 years old, are now either destroyed or in a bad state of disrepair. The wall disappeared along with history.
3. Debre Damo monastery and church
Debre Damo dates all the way back to the 6th Century reign of King Gebre Meskel. It is one of Ethiopia's most important monasteries.
To reach the monastery, you'll need to scale a sheer 15m cliff; there’s a thick leather rope to help you climb and the monks will tie a second line around your torso and help pull you up. The history of Debre Damo is centred on the "Nine Saints" who came to Ethiopia from Syria to spread Christianity in the Tigray region.
Debre Damo is magnificent in terms of its location and an extensive collection of priceless manuscripts that have remained intact until today. It has become a prominent monastery and educational centre for the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Many books have been written there and distributed to churches throughout Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is one of the few pre-colonial Christian churches in Africa.
4. Library of Alexandria
The Library of Alexandria, Egypt, was once the largest and most significant library in the world. It was established in 285-246 BC in ancient Egypt. It contained 40,000 to 400,000 works at its height, and European philosophers such as Homer, Plato, Socrates also had their works there. The library is suspected to have burned down in a fire. However, historians argue over this, with some claiming that it just dwindled in popularity due to lack of funding and support. There was a fire, however, caused accidentally by Julius Caesar during a civil war in 48 BC, but that fire did not completely destroy the library. No architectural remains or archaeological finds that can definitively be attributed to the ancient library have ever been recovered, which is surprising for such a renowned and imposing structure.
5. Tichitt Walata
Tichitt Walata, Mauritania, is the oldest surviving collection of settlements in West Africa and the oldest of all stone-based settlement south of the Sahara. It was built by the Soninke people. It is the precursor of the Ghana empire. It was settled by agropastoral people around 2000–300 BCE, which makes it almost 1000 years older than previously thought. It had well-laid-out streets and fortified compounds, all made out of skilled stone masonry. In all, there were 500 settlements. Evidence of millet farming in the area from as early as 2000 BC has been recovered.
Header Image Credit: Wikipedia