The historic sites of Mbanza Kongo in Angola, Eritrea’s capital Asmara and South Africa’s ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape were added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in July.
These are the first world heritage sites in Angola and Eritrea, but the ninth for South Africa which boasts of eight other sites.
The eight include the Fossil Hominid, Maloti-Drakensberg Park, Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, Vredefort Dome, Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape, Robben Island Museum, iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the Cape Floral Region Protected Areas.
Angola’s culture minister Carolina Cerqueira received the certificate for Mbanza Kongo this week at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France where she acknowledged the support they received from partners in getting the cultural site listed.
Mbanza Kongo is the capital of Angola’s Zaire Province and located on a plateau at an altitude of 570m. It lies close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It was founded before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century and was the capital of the Kilukeni dynasty that ruled at the time.
It was also the home of the ruler of the Kingdom of Kongo.
When the Portuguese arrived in Kongo, Mbanza Kongo – which they called Sao Salvador – was already a large town and they added stone buildings, a palace and several churches during the reign of Afonso I.
There are important religious and cultural sites in Mbanza Kongo including the ruins of its 16th century cathedral (built in 1549), the memorial to King Afonso I’s mother near the airport, the Manikongo’s judgement tree, a rectangular ground level structure where local tradition says the king’s body was washed before burial, a royal museum among others.
UNESCO says Mbanza Kongo illustrates, more than anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, the profound changes caused by the introduction of Christianity and the arrival of the Portuguese into Central Africa.
Asmara is the capital city of Eritrea and located at over 2000 metres above sea level. It has over 800,000 inhabitants and was developed after Italian occupation in 1889.
It was a military outpost for the Italian colonial power and acquired an Italian architectural look which earned it the name Piccola Roma (Little Rome) in the 1930s.
It has important sites including 20th-century buildings like the Art Deco Cinema Impero (opened in 1937), Cubist Africa Pension, eclectic Orthodox Cathedral and former Opera House, the futurist Fiat Tagliero Building, the neo-Romanesque Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Asmara, the neoclassical Governor’s Palace and the Eritrean National Museum.
UNESCO describes Asmara as an exceptional example of early modernist urbanism at the beginning of the 20thcentury and its application in an African context.
ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape
The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape covers the entire Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and is part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park bordering Botswana and Namibia.
It is located in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa and is believed to be the home of the first human settlers related to the formally nomade ǂKhomani San people.
The site is associated with a unique culture which goes back to the Stone Age and the San people developed a specific ethnobotanical knowledge, cultural practices and a worldview related to the geographical features of their environment.
The landscape has remained relatively unchanged and is managed by the South African National Parks.
UNESCO says the landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region and shaped the site over thousands of years.