To many people familiar with the Africa travel industry, Egypt is, by far, the most preferred destination for archaeological tours and historical travel. The reason is obvious, no African country has as many interesting historical places as Egypt does.
If I were to include the sphinx, the pyramids, and all other monuments from the ancient Egyptian civilization in this article, they would take all the top ten spots. This previous post lists what I consider the top five must-see sites in Egypt. In a later post, I will hopefully expand the list to include all the other places in Egypt.
Outside of Egypt, there are several equally important places that you should plan to visit in Africa. And these are what I am focusing on in today’s post.
1. The Roman ruins and relics of other ancient civilizations in Northern Africa
The entire Northern Africa region has dozens of monuments from the ancient ages. For the purpose of this article, I have grouped them together, but they are spread across Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, making it impossible to see all of them all in one trip.
The ruins are the remains of the activities of the Phoenician, Greek, Roman, and Carthaginian civilizations in the Mediterranean region. The most popular among these historical sites include Leptis Magna (pictured) in Libya, El Djem in Tunisia, Djémila in Algiers, and Volubilis in Morocco. For those attractions in Tunisia, read this previous post.
2. Timbuktu, Mali
“…Timbuktu where every race came to get books, to learn from black teachers who taught Greeks and Romans…”
The above quote, from Nas’ song I Can, may sound like an exaggeration – and it is – but from as early as the 12th century AD, Timbuktu was a key commercial and intellectual city.
Credible sources, like this website, indicate that by that time, the city already had three universities and several schools, with an active book publishing industry. Of course that was long after the end of both the Roman and Greek empires, but it still illustrates the historical significance of this city.
Today, Timbuktu may be a shadow of its glorious past, “a dusty footnote in northern Mali” as this report (PDF) indicates, but it remains an interesting and a must-visit site.
Sadly though, cases of kidnappings and terrorism have made several governments to issue warnings and alerts against traveling to Northern Mali. Here’s the one by the UK government for example.
3. Great Zimbabwe Ruins
These ruins are the greatest evidence of the existence of a Bantu civilization long before the arrival of the Portugueese explorers and other Europeans. Historians estimate that at its peak, this massive stone city had a population of about 18,000 people. The region was an important commercial hub, trading mostly in gold, iron, copper, and cowrie shells.
Some early historians expressed doubt whether indeed the city was built by native Africans, claiming instead that a “more civilized race” must have built it.
There are several other legends concerning the city, including that it was was the capital of the Queen of Sheba, but then the same is said of Axum. If you are interested in more history about the Great Zimbabwe, Professor Manu Ampim has written quite an interesting account. Undoubtedly, the ruins are one of the most awe-inspiring places to visit in Africa, as you can read in the reviews of other people who have been there.
4. Meroe, Sudan
Did you know that there are more pyramids in Sudan than there are in Egypt?
(See this link for reference).
The so called Nubian pyramids are found in what is today a UNESCO world heritage site, the Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe.
Like their Egyptian counterparts, many of these pyramids were tombs for the royalty, but in this case, in the Kingdom of Kush.
The Meroe pyramids are smaller and lack the splendour of those in Egypt, but they still are an interesting place to visit.
5. Ethiopian Historical Sites
Ethiopia has one of the richest histories of all African countries. Arguably, only Egypt can rival Ethiopia’s historical heritage. As a result, the country has many interesting places for cultural travel.
The Ethiopian historical sites include Lalilbela, Axum, Gondar, and Harar.
Lalibela, for example, is famous for its monolithic temples, carved out of a stone from the ground.
You can read more about Ethiopia here