by Lesley Marchant on August 31, 2018
4 min read

From Machu Picchu in Peru to the many Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico, our planet is full of ancient architecture giving us a peek into the kingdoms that ran the world centuries ago. Africa itself has no lack of historical landmarks telling tales of civilisations long lost. These ancient ruins of Africa – six spectacular structures eroded by the passing of time – still stand tall today.

1. Kilwa Kisiwane in Tanzania

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Photo Credit: Richard Mortel

Located on an island just off the coast of Tanzania, the ancient ruins of Kilwa Kisiwane tell the story of a once great East African port. Between the 13th and 16th centuries, Kilwa’s merchants dealt in silver, gold, pearls, perfumes, Arabian crockery, Persian earthenware and Chinese porcelain. An economic force of note, this Swahili trading city even minted its own currency.

The ruins themselves are built of coral and lime mortar; some are decorated with imported porcelain. They include a palace with an octagonal bathing pool, several mosques, a prison and an entire urban complex of houses, public squares and burial grounds – everything you could possibly need in a modern city.

2. The ruined city of Khami in Zimbabwe

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Photo Credit: Lars Lundqvist

The city of Khami was once the capital of Zimbabwe’s Torwa dynasty, rising from the fall of the Great Zimbabwe Kingdom between 1450 and 1650 CE. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, these ruins tell a fascinating story of an African economic powerhouse. Unearthed objects from Europe and China suggest that the city was a major centre for trade over several years. The structures at Khami are exceptionally well built – the population resided in daga huts build from logs and surrounded by sturdy granite walls, carefully decorated with chevron and checkered patterns.

3. The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt

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Photo Credit: Jorge Láscar

This architectural feat needs no introduction. The Giza pyramid complex includes three Great Pyramids, the Great Sphinx, a number of cemeteries, a workers’ village and an industrial area. Not only is the Great Pyramid of Giza the oldest of all the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – it’s also the only one to have remained largely intact over the years. Egyptologists believe the pyramid was built over a period of 20 years, with construction concluding around 2560 BCE. The exterior is made of the finest white limestone, quarried across the Nile. It’s believed that the pyramids were constructed to house the corpses of Pharaohs, but their true history still remains largely a mystery.

4. Adam’s Calendar in Mpumalanga

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Photo Credit: Michael Tellinger

Of all the ancient ruins of Africa, this is by far the oldest. It’s a controversial claim, but Adam’s Calendar is often suggested to be the oldest man-made structure in the world. Referred to as “African Stonehenge”, its construction predates Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza by tens of thousands of years – in fact, it’s believed to be about 75,000 years old. Amazingly, the stones remain an accurate calendar to this day. Every evening when the sun sets, its shadow is cast by the central monolith onto a flat calendar stone beside it.

5. The Obelisk of Axum in Ethiopia

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Photo Credit: Ondřej Žváček

This 24-metre granite structure – weighing a whopping 160 tonnes – was constructed all the way back in 4th century BCE. Historians believe the obelisk was carved by the Kingdom of Aksum, an ancient Ethiopian civilisation. At the base are two false doors, carved to look like the entryway to an Axumite home – the detail is so impressive, even false locks have been carefully carved. Looted by Italy in 1937 following a period of Italian occupation, the obelisk was finally returned to its rightful home in 2004.

6. The Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali

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Photo Credit: Baron Reznik

Okay, so this isn’t quite one of the ancient ruins of Africa, but let’s call it a bonus addition to the list. An undisputed wonder, the Great Mosque of Djenné is the oldest mud-built structure in the world and arguably one of the most remarkable religious buildings ever created. Built in the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style out of little other than sun-baked earth bricks, this mosque was constructed in 1907 but the first version dates back all the way to the 13th century. What makes it even more special – the entire community takes an active role in the mosque’s maintenance during a unique annual festival, where music is played, food is enjoyed and repairs are undertaken.

If you enjoyed learning about the ancient ruins of Africa, read more exciting tales about African history here:

6 Mythical Places in Africa We Wish We Could Visit

Feature Image Credit: The African Exponent