When tourists visit sub-Saharan Africa, they often wonder “Why there are no historical buildings or monuments?” The reason is simple. Europeans destroyed most of them.

We only have a few drawings and descriptions by travelers who visited the places before their destruction. In some places, ruins are still visible. Many cities were abandoned when Europeans brought exotic diseases (smallpox and influenza) which started spreading and killing people. Most of those cities lie hidden. In fact the biggest part of Africa history is still under the ground.

(Please note – the research supporting this post is mostly derived from Robin Walker, a distinguished panafricanist and historian who has written the book ‘When We Ruled’, and by PD Lawton, another great panafricanist, who has an upcoming book titled “The Invisible Empire”. All quotes and excerpts below are from the books of Robin Walker and PD Lawton. I highly recommend you to read Walker’s book ‘When We Ruled’ to get a full account of the beauty of the continent before its destruction. You can get more info about PD Lawton work by visiting her blog: AfricanAgenda.net.

Robin Walter and PD Lawton have quoted quite heavily another great panafricanist Walter Rodney who wrote the book ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa‘. Additional information came from YouTube channel ‘dogons2k12 : African Historical Ruins’, and The Ta Neter Foundation work. Most drawings are from the book African Cities and Towns Before the European Conquest by Richard W. Hull, published in 1976. That book alone dispels the stereotypical view of Africans living in simple, primitive, look-alike agglomerations, scattered without any appreciation for planning and design.)We begin with Benin City.  At the end of the 13th century, a European traveler encountered the great metropolis in West Africa (present Nigeria, Edo State), writing:“The town seems to be very great.

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When you enter into it, you go into a great broad street, not paved, which seems to be seven or eight times broader than the Warmoes street in Amsterdam…The Kings palace is a collection of buildings which occupy as much space as the town of Harlem, and which is enclosed with walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince`s ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as big as those on the Exchange at Amsterdam.

They are supported by wooden pillars encased with copper, where their victories are depicted, and which are carefully kept very clean. The town is composed of thirty main streets, very straight and 120 feet wide, apart from an infinity of small intersecting streets. The houses are close to one another, arranged in good order. These people are in no way inferior to the Dutch as regards cleanliness; they wash and scrub their houses so well that they are polished and shining like a looking glass.” (Source: Walter Rodney, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, pg. 69)

The mediaeval Nigerian city of Benin was built to “a scale comparable with the Great Wall of China”. There was a vast system of defensive walling totalling 10,000 miles in all. Even before the full extent of the city walling had become apparent the Guinness Book of Records carried an entry in the 1974 edition that described the city as: “The largest earthworks in the world carried out prior to the mechanical era.” – Excerpt from “The Invisible Empire”, PD Lawton, Source-YouTube, uploader-dogons2k12 `African Historical Ruins`

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“Benin art of the Middle Ages was of the highest quality. An official of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde once stated that: “These works from Benin are equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique. Benvenuto Cellini could not have cast them better, nor could anyone else before or after him . . . Technically, these bronzes represent the very highest possible achievement.”

Sadly, in 1897, Benin City was destroyed by British forces under Admiral Harry Rawson. The city was looted, blown up and burnt to the ground. A collection of the famous Benin Bronzes are now in the British Museum in London. Part of the 700 stolen bronzes by the British troops were sold back to Nigeria in 1972.

Here is another account of the great Benin City regarding the city walls “They extend for some 16 000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6500 square kilometres and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet.” Source: Wikipedia, Architecture of Africa.” Fred Pearce the New Scientist 11/09/99.

Here is a view of Benin city in 1891 before the British conquest. H. Ling Roth, Great Benin, Barnes and Noble reprint. 1968.

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