It is not easy to come up with a short list of top historical attractions in Africa. Africa is best known for wildlife safaris, but it does have a lot to offer in terms of history. One of the oldest universities in the world lies somewhere in West Africa. From mysterious abandoned stone cities to centuries-old churches hewn out of bare rock and Roman ruins still adorned with colorful mosaics, Africa has it all.
Pyramids of Giza – Egypt
The Pyramids of Giza are perhaps the most famous archaeological and historical sites in Africa. Despite their fame and popularity, they remain a huge mystery. Scientists are still not sure exactly how the pyramids were built. The Egyptians built the pyramids as burial tombs which they believed were necessary to facilitate the passing of the Pharaohs into the next world. They filled the pyramids with treasures to ensure that the Pharaoh’s had everything they needed to journey into the next world and join the gods. In trying to achieve immortality, they built structures that have stood the test of time.
Luxor – Egypt
Luxor is very much like Rome. It is a modern city which holds within it open-air museums. Juxtaposed against the background of a 21st-century city, are the remnants of ancient temples, ancient tombs that housed royals, and ancient palaces where the Pharaohs once lived. Luxor was the capital of upper Egypt. It was the place where Pharaoh’s lived in luxury. Just across the Nile river is the ancient Thebes.
Carthage – Tunisia
The ancient Phoenician city of Carthage was built in Tunisia, and it remains still stand there. Carthage was a wealthy and prosperous city before it was defeated and burned down by Rome at the end of the Punic wars. Most of their literature was destroyed, and we know little about their art or their literature. We do know that there were traders and that they engaged in the mining of silver.
Volubilis – Morocco
Volubilis is an ancient Roman city in Morocco. It has only been partially excavated, but there is still plenty to see and enjoy. It is one of the best places to admire the mosaic murals on the buildings. These are one of the most expensive ruins in Africa. The ruins are in the middle of the lush Moroccan countryside.
Timbuktu – Mali
Timbuktu was an important centre of trade in the Trans Saharan trade route. The desert city has historical and religious significance. Three historical mosques stand in Timbuktu. They were built in the 14th and 15th Century and they remain in good condition today thanks to the goodwill of the people of Timbuktu who faithfully redo the mud plastering every year.
Timbuktu was not just a centre of trade. It was also an ancient centre of learning. A large library was built in Timbuktu, and additionally, Muslim scholars lived, studied, and taught in Timbuktu for hundreds of years. The most famous resident of Timbuktu was a man of legendary wealth named Musa, whose splendor rivaled that of Solomon.
Abomey – Benin
Benin’s Abomey was built way back in the 17th century. It was the capital of a great West African kingdom. Abomey was a centre of trade between West Africa and the rest of the world. Today, the economy of Abomey centres around peanut farming and palm oil plantations. Within Abomey, there are several major attractions. The royal palaces, which were occupied by rulers in times past, remain standing. Royal tombs and a museum also remain for visitors to view and enjoy.
Lalibela – Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s Lalibela is the location of many ancient churches, famous for their unusual designs. There are eleven churches here which have survived for hundreds of years. What is most astonishing is that these churches were not built of bricks or stones.
They were carved out of granite rock. Today, Lalibela is home to 10,000 people. Orthodox Christianity is still the most important aspect of life in the small, rural town. Lalibela is named after King Lalibela, whose dream was to create an alternative pilgrimage site for those Christians who could not afford to travel to Jerusalem. To date, Lalibela still attracts thousands of pilgrims from every continent in the world.
Olduvai Gorge – Tanzania
As far as history goes, it does not get more ancient than Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, East Africa. There are no magnificent palaces, ancient cities, or pyramids to see here. Here we find the remains of our ancestors. More than sixty hominin remains to lie here at Olduvai Gorge, where visitors come to learn more about where they came from, and how they lived. There is a lot of evidence of stone age development at Olduvai Gorge. The famous ‘Nutcracker man’ was discovered here in 1959 by Mary Leakey.
Royal Palace of Fez – Morocco
As the name suggests, the Royal Palace of Fez belongs to the Moroccan royal family. Visitors are not allowed inside the palace, but the façade is so impressive that it is still worth the visit. Seven intimidating arched bronze doors adorn the palace.
They are framed with exquisitely carved cedar detailing. Built in the 17th century, the intriguing palace continues to tease visitors who wonder what other treasures lie hidden inside the eighty-acre estate. By night, the walls are bathed in soft, golden lighting. Tourists may want to visit the local Jewish quarter too.
Great Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe
The ruins of Great Zimbabwe are not nearly as famous as they should be. These monuments are among the most impressive on the entire continent. The large granite structures which have stood for more than nine hundred years are as mysterious as England’s Stonehenge. Who built them? Why did they abandon their city? What happened to the people who lived there? Archeologists estimate that more than 18,000 people lived in the settlement and that it took three centuries to build.
Meroe – Sudan
Meroe is the ancient city of Cush, and it is found in modern-day Sudan. Ancient Egypt’s 25th dynasty established their settlement in Meroe. They gradually grew apart from the Egyptian kingdom. At some point, Meroe was attacked by the Romans. Among the ruins are palaces, temples, and numerous pyramids. Meroe’s pyramids may be small compared to the pyramids of Giza, but there are so many of them. Sudan actually has a lot more pyramids than Egypt.
With time, the kingdom abandoned Egyptian hieroglyphics and adopted their own writing system, which has not been deciphered. Meroe was an extremely wealthy kingdom. So wealthy in fact, that the Romans tried to invade it. It is Meroe that is referred to in the bible as Ethiopia. Meroe was finally conquered and it fell into decline.
Fort Jesus – Kenya
The people who live along Kenya’s Coast have long referred to Mombasa City as the ‘Island of War.’ In the distant past, there were multiple conquests of the city. The Turks wrested it from the Portuguese, the Portuguese took it back, and so on. The Portuguese finally built a fort in the 15th century, hoping that it would keep their rivals away. Fort Jesus was completed in 1596. An Italian architect designed the fort that still stands to date, long after the Portuguese lost their hold on Mombasa.
Today, Mombasa is a nice, quiet tourist town where life moves at a bit of a slow pace. But the fort and the nickname ‘Mvita’ remain as reminders of a more volatile past.