Africa’s architectural excellence spans the continent

Pyramids, Al Haram, Egypt

African Created Wonders 

When one thinks of architecture in Africa, the first thought that would come to mind for many would be the pyramids. While these are culturally significant and technically incredible, they are only one among many wonders created by African architects. There are others across the continent which are equally deserving of fame and tourism income.

Lady of Peace

Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro Basilica in Yamoussoukro, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, is one such architectural wonder. Around 1,200 people worked on the project, as per a LA Times report published in 1989, the year before its consecration. According to the Guinness World Records, it is the largest Christian church in the world. It was designed by Dabou-born Lebanese/Ivorian architect Pierre Fakhoury. Indigenous Iroko wood was chosen for 7,000 pews that make up part of the magnificent building.

Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro Basilica

The Great Mosque of Djenné

The Great Mosque of Djenne 

The Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali is another famous religious building in Africa. The mosque is believed to have been built between 1200 and 1330 and the local community has been praised across the world for its preservation efforts. They have favoured retaining historical and structural integrity over trying to modernise the building. The walls of the mosque were built with traditional earth bricks known as ferey. Traditional materials including palm-trunk inserts have long been vital to the design of the Mosque.

Not all African architecture is strictly religious. The Golden Jubilee House, the presidential palace in Accra, Ghana, was reconstructed and inaugurated in November 2008. It is not only the residency of the president, but also a monument to an important chapter in Ghana’s political history. The new Jubilee House is a gigantic 11-storey low-rise building.

The Golden Stool is housed in the Asante royal palace in Kumasi, Ghana. This, in itself, is an architectural wonder. It is the most important stool in the Ashanti kingdom as it represents the authority of the Asantehene (king) and the preservation and prosperity of the kingdom and its people. The stool is made of solid gold.

The Golden Jubilee House

the Nubian pyramids of Sudan

It is certainly worth appreciating the architectural complexity of the pyramids. However, it is easy to mistakenly associate pyramids with only Egypt, when in actual fact, the Nubian pyramids of Sudan are every bit as marvellous.

The Nubian pyramids were built by the rulers of the ancient Kushite kingdoms over hundreds of years to house tombs for the Kings, Queens and wealthy people of Napata and Meroë. They were heavily influenced by the Egyptian pyramids, but there are more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt. There are roughly 2000 Kushite pyramids in upper Sudan and only 200 pyramids in Egypt.

The Amphitheatre of El Jem in Tunisia is another example of North African architectural excellence. It was built in around 238 AD and is estimated to accommodate around 35,000 spectators. The amphitheatre has played a major role in popular culture, featuring in Monty Python’s Life of Brian and the film Gladiator.

However, few architectural sites are of more significance to African people than Dakar’s Selebe Yoon, which translates to “the crossroads” in Wolof. The 1,000 square-metre building is a gallery supports which supports local and international artists alike. 

The Amphitheatre of El Jem in Tunisia

Selebe Yoon, Dakar, Senegal.

The gallery hosts exhibitions, such as one which is upcoming by El Hadji Sy, who is a Senegalese artist with a credible reputation on the international stage.

On display during the recent Entre Acte exhibition were the works of Rufai Zakari, who created art out of fragments of recycled plastic. This is an example of how Selebe Yoon is used to bring important topics such as sustainability to the forefront of discussions while promoting African talent such as Ghana’s Zakari and Senegal’s Sy and allowing them free reign to create work that is relevant to their own cultures.

Across the African continent, there is architecture that deserves the highest praise. Above all, African architects have shown time and time again whether in Ghana, Tunisia, Sudan or Egypt that they come from intelligent, expressive cultures and that this has been the case throughout history, dating back to an era when today’s most common forms of art did not exist. Elements of indigenous African cultures are showcased in all their beauty. Africa’s complicated history and beautiful triumphs continue to be showcased by some of the most talented architects on the continent and the world.