Since the dawn of time, Africans have remained uniquely creative especially in their cultural and social ways of life. This singularity is also manifest in the African architectural traditions particularly those used in the construction of ancient homes and important structures such as the kings’ castles.
While some people might assume that Europe is the only place to find magnificent forts, Africa too has its fair share of castles, some of which are hundreds of years old. So, if you are looking to learn the real traditional African architectural history, you just need to explore these castles
Castle of Good Hope, South Africa
Constructed by the Dutch in 1679, the Castle of Good Hope is one of the few remaining colonial structures in the whole of South Africa. The current structure replaced an earlier fort that was built with clay and timber. The complex now comprises of a church, bakery, living quarters, shops, cells, workshops, among other amenities.
Initially, the castle was situated on the coastline of Cape Town but the continued land reclamation around the area has rendered it an inland fort. Before 1936, when it officially became a historical monument, the castle used to serve as a refill point for vessels to and from Europe. It also served, albeit briefly, as a prison.
Over the years, the castle has undergone numerous restorations that have kept it in great shape and state. Actually, it is considered the best-preserved example of a Dutch East India Company fort. The distinct shape of the pentagonal castle was used on all South African Defense Force flags, formed the basis of some rank emblem of Major and used on South African Air Force aircrafts.
Yohannes IV Castle, Ethiopia
Situated on the hills of Mekele, northern Ethiopia, Yohannes IV Castle served as the home of Emperor Yohannes IV who ruled the region in the 1880s. The ancient fortress is likened to the great palace of the Biblical King Solomon. It is made up of churches, shops, housing quarters and other facilities.
The fortress was the main capital of Tigray and still serves as the main terminus of caravans coming to and from the salt mines of the Danakil Depression. Salt merchants from all over Ethiopia meet at Tigray market to buy and sell the commodity.
Although the brick and mortar structure, which was constructed by Italians, has undergone many restorations, it has retained its original designs and now serves as a museum with a wide range of artefacts and rifles, royal beds, dresses and the king’s throne.
Citadel of Qaitbay, Egypt
The Citadel of Qaitbay castle is an extraordinary fortress in Alexandria, Egypt, created to serve as part of the city’s defensive system until the late 19th century. In the 1950s, the government of Egypt turned it into a Maritime Museum.
The magnificent castle, which sits on the eastern side of the northern tip of Pharos Island on the mouth of the Eastern Harbor, was built in 1477 AD by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa’it Bay. All through the Mameluke age, the Citadel castle remained the favorite fort for all the rulers that came after Qaitbay.
Its strategic location made it the perfect security checkpoint of the city of Alexandria. But since the Orabi Revolt in 1882, which destroyed a large part of the city, the castle remained deserted until 1904 when the Egyptian Ministry of Defense restored its upper floor. Subsequent renovations have been done, the biggest one being the facelift by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization in 1984.
Fort Jesus, Kenya
Built in 1596 by the Portuguese, Fort Jesus is one of the few remaining ancient structures in Kenya. It is located on Mombasa Island in coastal Kenya and assumes the figure of man when viewed from a bird’s-eye view.
Although the site has so far been passed on to nine owners, it remains one of the best preserved ancient sites in Kenya and Africa in general. It is also a perfect example of the 16th-century Portuguese military architecture.
Fort Jesus, which currently serves as a major tourist attraction site in the country, was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. The site is considered a testament to the first successful attempt by the West to influence the Indian Ocean Trade.