Africa is not only blessed with warm weather, a variety of wildlife and great people and food, but also with great historical sites that tell the diverse and rich history of the continent. Below are top 5 historical sites that you should visit during your next trip.
5. Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt ( 2560 BC)
The most famous of all Egyptian pyramids is of course the Great Pyramid of Giza, arguably also the most famous building in all of Africa, new or old. It is also referred to as the Pyramid of Cheops or the Pyramid of Khufu. As the largest of the three Ancient Egyptian Pyramids of Giza, it has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
It is thought that it took around 10-20 years to build the pyramid around 2560 BC. For more than 3,800 years, it was the tallest man-made structure anywhere on the planet. During ancient times, its surface would have been smooth, covered over with casing stones. Inside are at least three chambers: the Queen’s Chamber, the King’s Chamber and one lower chamber. As is common with Egyptian pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza is surrounded by a complex which includes smaller satellite pyramids and temples and structures.
4. Red Pyramid, Egypt (2580 BC)
Slightly older than the Great Pyramid of Giza is the Red Pyramid, also known as the North Pyramid. This is the largest of three pyramids to be found in the Dahshur necropolis in Cairo. It takes its name from the color of the limestone from which it is constructed, which has a slight reddish hue.
Like the Great Pyramid of Giza, it was once likely smooth-sided, and is the third largest pyramid in all of Egypt. Curiously enough, the Tura limestone which would have once encased it was white, not red—so the Red Pyramid wasn’t red at all in ancient times.
3. Bent Pyramid, Egypt ( 2580 BC)
About a kilometre north of the famous Red Pyramid is another known as the Bent Pyramid, constructed by the same Pharaoh Sneferu. When you see the pyramid, the origin of the name will be obvious to you. The sides of the pyramids rise steeply from the desert sand, but near the top, the incline abruptly becomes shallow. This creates a bend in the sides.
So why is the bent pyramid bent? It is thought that, initially, the sides were meant to rise at a smooth, steep incline all the way up to the top. But during construction, builders realized that the pyramid was going to collapse if they continued the walls at the same angle, and so they switched abruptly to a shallower incline to save it. The Red Pyramid, built shortly thereafter, was constructed at a shallower angle from the start, which seems to point toward lessons learned from the Bent Pyramid mishap.
2. Pyramid of Meidum, Egypt (2580 BC)
Also spelled “Maidum” or “Maydum,” the Pyramid of Meidum is located in Lower Egypt south of Cairo, and is the second oldest building in Africa. Originally, it was likely constructed for the Third Dynasty pharaoh Huni, but it seems that Pharaoh Sneferu continued work on the structure.
The architect who designed the Pyramid of Meidum was the successor of Imhotep, the renowned ancient Egyptian engineer who invented the concept of the stone pyramid (see the Pyramid of Djoser below). Sadly, the structure collapsed, probably because Imhotep’s successor experimented with modifications to the original design. This accounts for its uncanny appearance today.
1. Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt (2667–2648 BC)
Finally, the oldest building still standing in Africa is the original Egyptian pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser. Its design was conceived by the engineer Imhotep, who was also a physician and architect (and amazingly enough, a commoner, later considered a god after he was deified two thousand years after his death).
The Pyramid of Djoser is a step pyramid, which can be contrasted with the smooth-sided pyramids developed later. Each step is referred to as a “mastaba,” which translates to “house of eternity.” A single mastaba can function as a tomb on its own. Stacking successively smaller mastabas one on top of the other resulted in a dramatic structure, fit for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser. This pyramid was of course a starting blueprint for all those that followed after.
You now know more about the oldest structures in Africa, the vast majority of which were constructed as ancient Egyptian tombs. The strides in engineering and architecture which were made by the ancient Egyptians were quite astonishing. Be sure to plan a trip to Africa one day to marvel at these ancient structures in person!