What city in ancient/medieval Africa would you visit at its prime?

beorna

Ad Honoris
Jan 2010
17,473
-
#21
There are lots of places that would be worth to visit. As fan of the egyptian culture I would love to visit the old Waset, Theben and Men-nefer, Memphis.
 
May 2015
1,301
Germany
#22
Never seen that particular engraving of Meroe.
Its a rare depiction from "The Capital of Kush 2. Meroe Excavations 1973-1984" :)
Swagganaut if you have any more engravings or drawings of pre-colonial african cities and architecture we'd all love to see them
Sadly, i have only either plans of the city structure without actual reconstructions of the buildings or reconstructions of particular buldings. I can offer only some relatively well known ones like this one here:

It depicts Carthage in the third century AD and was drawn by Jean-Claude Golvin. He has also drawn many other colourful reconstructions of cities, for example ancient Egyptian ones.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,594
Benin City, Nigeria
#25
Say you have a time machine and the ability to travel back as far in the past as you wish, but you can only use the time machine twice, once to get your destination, and once to get back to your own time. So essentially you can only choose one city but you can stay there as long as you wish. Say you have all the advantages of modern technology with you as well as complete safety from disease, violence, famine, and essentially danger of any kind present. You can use a camera or a laptop to record and write down everything you see with impunity. Where would you go? Anywhere from the ancient period up to the beginning of the colonial Africa.

I would go to Birnin Ngazargamu, the the seat of the mais of kanem-borni from the 15th century onward following the fall of the original capital of Njimi in Kanem. Njimi itself was a decent sized city with houses of plastered clay with the castle of the mai in the centre of the city, but it paled in comparison with the splendor of the new Bornouese capital with Ngazargamu. Notable buildings included of course the palaces of mais and the nobility, along with its 4 giant mosques capable of housing 12,000 worshipers each.

The buildings were of a unique fired or baked-red brick construction with its ruins still being visible today. It was surrounded by a 7 metre high rampart with 5 entrances that covered 6 square kilometers. Town planning was evident in the city with its some 660 streets, said to be wide and unbending. The dendal, or high streets were lined on both sides with trees that offered plenty of shade in the Sahelian climate. 250,000 people were said to have lived in this metropolis.

The german explorer and scholar Heinrich Barth, a criminally underrated man whose contributions to African history are monumental in their scope, himself examined the ruins on his way to Sokoto and Timbuktu in the 19th century and said the masonry was by no means deficient, in fact it was equal to the finest masonry he had ever seen in Europe. A ringing endorsement from a man whose travels took him to all three shores of the Mediterranean and beyond.

The city itself was probably never as great a center of Islamic learning like Jenne, Timbuktu or Katsina, as Barth himself found no madrasahs or colleges attached to the royal mosque so he concluded that perhaps Islam was, as it was in many African kingdoms, pursued by the intellectual and commercial elite rather than the average subject of the mais.

The mais themselves chose political and military power to be concentrated in the new capital by requiring all dignitaries and members of the court to reside within the city. The capital came to contain all of the ruling class, including the royal family, free titled men, and royal slaves. I wonder if this is because the mais, paranoid about being overthrown, wanted any potential enemies to be under his watchful eyes at all times rather than cementing rebellion or plotting against him in distant provinces.

Other buildings or personal residences of the average citizen probably would have been made of straw and adobe. The homes of dignitaries would have surrounded the royal palace and mosque.

While it may not have been a major islamic center of learning, it was an unparalleled center of trade in the central sudan, being situated at the terminus of the trans-saharan trade route from Tripolitania and the fezzan. Pottery, weaving, dying, and bornu leatherwork flourished within the city. Bornu itself was an important region economically, furnishing the empire with vast amounts of ivory, ostrich feathers(with which fine sandals and fans were fashioned from and eventually came to be a symbol of nobility within Bornu) foodstuffs, animal products and slaves. The city itself had trade links radiating out to Kano, North Africa,and the famous commercial centre of Takkeda,renowned for its copper mines which were famously used to manufacture the benin bronzes.

Under Mai Idris Alooma the city saw a huge build up of infantry and cavalry forces who used the capital as a staging base within to carry out sieges and slave raids leading some to speculate as to whether it was truly a city or merely a massive military encampment.

In 1808 the city was invaded and destroyed by fulani forces loyal to Usman Dan Fodio and the newly created Sokoto Caliphate, who soon supplanted Bornu as the regional power in Northern Nigeria and generally the central Sudan. To make matters worse, what was left of the red brick ruins were used to build the residence of a regional French governor during the onset of colonial rule. In any case this only shows how superb the quality of Bornu masonry was.

When you think about it, the fulani really did a number on West and Central africa, but that's for another thread.

Ngazargamu actually was a center of scholarship. Not as much of one as Timbuktu or Jenne, but scholarly pursuits were supported by the state, and it attracted scholars from far away lands:

"Bornu had been a magnet for travelers, scholars, and merchants for many centuries. Barth was shown documents about its history dating to the first half of the sixteenth century. Using various histories and accounts, including oral ones, he traced the origins of Bornu's Saifawa dynasty to "a little before the year 900." The historical record became more clear from the twelfth century onward. (Barth saw an extract of a long written history of Bornu, but the main volumes were kept hidden because some members of the current regime were intent on destroying documents from the previous dynasty. The vizier showed Barth the extract but wouldn't let him touch it, and required him to read it from over his shoulder. Entitled The Kanem Wars of Idris Alooma, the chronicle dated to the late 1500s. Barth made a copy and sent it to Europe.) By the sixteenth century Bornu's immense territory encompassed Tibesti and Bilma to the north, Kanemi and Baguirmi to the east, and most of Air and Hausaland to the west. Its kings made the haj to Mecca. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Bornu became a center of Islamic learning, attracting scholars from throughout North Africa and even the Middle East. Educated men and their families established "mallam villages" where they farmed and studied together, exempt from taxes because of their religious scholarship." - Steve Kempner, A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, p.141

In a recently published doctoral dissertation that I came across, titled "There is no doubt. Muslim scholarship and society in 17th-century Central Sudanic Africa", the author, Dorrit van Dalen, describes the scholarly activity in Bornu while Ngazargamu was the capital:

"Birni Gazargamu was a centre of higher learning which attracted ulamā from the entire Niger-Chad region.87 Especially Mai Umar b. Idrīs (r. 1619-1639) and his son Mai Alī b. Umar supported Muslim learning in several ways. They invited scholars to their court, and gave others land in more remote parts of the country, where they could settle with their pupils and propagate Islam. The scholars not only received financial support, they were also supported by the interest the Mais took in their work and their participation in scholarly discussions.88 According to the Diwān al-salaṭīn Mai Alī himself was not only pious, but also ‘a courageous man and a great thinker’. His personal learning led to the belief that he could bring books from al-Azhar whenever he needed them, just by stretching out his arm.89 The strong scholarly network in the capital also made room for the activities of specialists such as calligraphers, and the fame of the beautiful Qur’āns they produced spread far and wide.90"

In that same dissertation, van Dalen also notes that some of Bornu's books were said by the ruler of Bornu to have been burned by the Fulani during their invasion. The author also notes that some historical works were burned when dynastic changes occurred:

"All our investigations must be affected by doubts created by the ever-recurrent stories of the destruction of books. It is commonly believed that during the Sokoto jihād, the revolutionaries destroyed the chronicles of the Hausa kingdoms they conquered.64 Bornu’s leader al-Kanemī blamed Dan Fodio for the fact that his warriors also destroyed books in Bornu with the pretext that they contained un-Islamic ideas, and Dan Fodio’s son Muḥammad Bello in his turn accused one of the Hausa kings of burning books as an act of war.65 Some decades later, Umar, the son of Bornu’s extra-dynastic leader al-Kanemī, was said to have burned the royal chronicles of Bornu."

The destruction of Ngazargamu brought an abrupt end to the scholarship there so this aspect of the city is probably not as well known for the additional reason that its scholarly tradition did not last as long as that of some other places.

Although the Fulani invaders destroyed Ngazargamu (though they failed to actually conquer Bornu and were eventually driven out of the country) the Bornu kingdom (no longer really an empire) later established a new capital at Kukawa, which was also quite an interesting place according to visitors, though it obviously would not have equaled Ngazargamu during Ngazargamu's prime in terms of how impressive it was.

"In 1808 dan Fodio's army of Fulanis destroyed the kingdom's capital, Ngazargamu. Bornu's beleaguered king, called the mai, asked an obscure mallam-turned-soldier living in Ngala, south of Lake Chad, to take command of the army. His name was Muhammed al-Kanemi. As a boy, al-Kanemi had gone to religious school in Murzuk, then moved to Tripoli to study under its scholars. After making the haj he stayed in the Middle East for about a decade to study. He returned to Africa and settled in Ngala, where he earned a reputation as a holy man. When the jihad began, this reputation helped him rally the local forces to repel the Fulani invaders. Word of this had reached the mai. Under al-Kanemi the Bornu army recaptured the capital and drove back the Fulanis. Al-Kanemi became Bornu's de facto ruler, though he neither deposed the mai nor called himself king. Instead he took the title of sheikh, or shehu. The mai, angry at being turned into a puppet, invited the kingdom of Baguirmi to invade and oust al-Kanemi. In the war that followed, Bagirmi forces overran Bornu, but Bagirmi soldiers accidentally killed the mai. Al-Kanemi soon pushed out the invaders. He later attacked Bagirmi and sacked its capital, where he captured the princess who would become Umar's mother. In 1814 al-Kanemi built a new capital about 15 miles west of Lake Chad. He called it Kukawa because of the neighborhood's many kuka trees (baobabs). When the first British expedition arrived a decade later, the city was thriving. After al-Kanemi died in 1835, he was succeeded by Umar, one of his forty-three sons." - A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, p.142

On p. 144 of A Labyrinth of Kingdoms, the author mentions how the kingdom of Wadai invaded Bornu (which was an attempt to restore the old Bornu dynasty of the mais to power, though the author does not state that) and destroyed Kukawa, and how that led to the rebuilding of the town in a different layout:

"A few years before Barth arrived, the kingdom of Wadai, northeast of Bornu, had invaded and destroyed Kukawa. When the Bornuese recaptured it, Umar rebuilt it as two towns, both walled, separated by a long broad avenue that was always lively with traffic."

In this book the author also mentions on p.146 that Kukawa also drew visitors from far off lands, as Ngazargamu had before it:

"Kukawa still attracted religious pilgrims from throughout the Islamic world - Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, Timbuktu, and the Middle East as well as Central Africa. The route from the Sudan to Mecca passed through Kukawa, which accounted for some of the pilgrims. So did the sheikh's reputation as a soft touch for religious travelers. Many of them stayed for years, collecting religious welfare by claiming their right to alms. Bornu was also a trade hub, drawing merchants from all four directions. The city was so crowded with travelers, from such far-flung places, that Barth postponed his study of the Kanuri language to glean geographical information from them. He called them his instructors, and plied them with coffee to keep them talking. They included a remarkable traveler who had roamed from Mali to Khorasan (northeastern Iran), and from Morocco to Fertit (in today's Central African Republic). This man usually traveled as a dervish. Another useful informant came from Sennar in Ethiopia. He had deserted the Turkish army after embezzling funds. He fled to Wadai, where he gave military training to the sultan's slaves. He was about to return there, this time as a spy for Sheikh Umar. Another learned man named Ibrahim had crossed the entire continent from west to east, then continued to Mecca. He had spent two years as a hostage in St. Louis on the Senegal coast, and remarked that the English were enthusiastic about distributing Bibles, the French about enjoying the native women."

The man who usually traveled as a dervish that Barth met in Kukawa was a native of Baghdad. What the purpose of all his extensive traveling was seems to be a mystery.

In the book The Encylopedia of Islam (1954), H.A.R. Gibb provides some additional information on Kukawa:

"After the Wadai sack in 1846, Kuka was rebuilt, but a new town was added to the east, and into this quarter the political leaders moved. The shehu's main palace was in the east town, although that in the west town was refurbished, and the shehu visited it from time to time, particularly at religious festivals. The west town, i.e. the original Kuka, became the residential area of non-titled families, and foreign merchants; it had the larger population. Each town was walled separately. (Kukawa is a plural form: there were in fact two Kuka towns)."

This avenue or thoroughfare (dendal) which joined the eastern and western walled towns that made up the city of Kukawa, was noted for its great and varied activity by both Heinrich Barth (in Travels and Discoveries) and later Gustav Nachtigal (in Sahara and Sudan). Barth's description of it is interesting:

"The most animated quarter of the two towns is the great thoroughfare, which, proceeding by the southern side of the palace in the western town, traverses it from west to east, and leads straight to the sheikh's residence in the eastern town. This is the "dendal" or promenade, a locality which has its imitation, on a less or greater scale, in every town of the country. This road, during the whole day, is crowded by numbers of people on horseback and on foot; free men and slaves, foreigners as well as natives, every one in his best attire, to pay his respects to the sheikh or his vizier, to deliver an errand, or to sue for justice or employment, or a present. I myself very often went along this well-trodden path - this high road of ambition; but I generally went at an unusual hour, either at sunrise in the morning, or while the heat of midday, not yet abated, detained the people in their cool haunts, or late at night, when the people were already retiring to rest, or, sitting before their houses, beguiling their leisure hours with amusing tales or with petty scandal. At such hours I was sure to find the vizier or the sheikh alone; but sometimes they wished me to also visit and sit with them, when they were accessible to all the people; and on these occasions the vizier took pride and delight in conversing with me about matters of science, such as the motion of the earth, or the planetary system, or subjects of that kind." - Heinrich Barth, Travels and discoveries in North and Central Africa - being a journal of an expedition undertaken under the auspices of H.B.M.'s government in the years 1849-1855

Barth also published a drawing he made of a part of the dendal of Kukawa in Travels and Discoveries:



Gustav Nachtigal - who had in fact been sent on a mission by king Wilhelm I of Prussia to thank Umar, the Shehu of Bornu, for his country's hospitable treatment of Heinrich Barth during Barth's stay in Bornu - remarked of the dendal in Sahara and Sudan that "Rides along this main thoroughfare were always of novel and enthralling interest" to him and that they revealed that a "life of variety and even splendor" existed in Kukawa.

Barth and Nachtigal also both noted the large extent of the (rebuilt) city of Kukawa. Barth remarked in Travels and Discoveries that he was "rather taken by surprise at seeing the large extent of the double town" and also noted the numerous "gorgeously dressed horsemen" that he met when he first entered the city. Unfortunately, Kukawa was destroyed at the end of the 19th century just as Ngazargamu had been destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century. Kukawa was destroyed not by the Fulani as Ngazargamu had been, but by the army of the renegade Sudanese warlord Rabih in 1893.

It would have been nice if even more information about Ngazargamu had survived of course, as that was certainly the greater city - certainly one of the great cities of the world during its prime - but the information collected about Kukawa in the 19th century shows that it was quite an interesting capital city in its own right. Had that city not also been reduced to nothing, we would have some great images of the surviving buildings of the dignitaries and royalty of the kingdom.





My answer to the actual question of the thread is that I cannot really narrow it down to just one city. I think either Benin or Ife would be my first choice, but I could also end up choosing something less obvious than one of those two.

Perhaps I would go for Kerma, Gao (before it became part of Mali), Meroe, Dongola (when Makuria was at its height), Kumase (mostly to see the dazzling pageantry of the Ashanti court in its totality and to see the architecture), or Mbanza Kongo.

Kernuk (or Karnak) when it was the capital of Baguirmi, before it was destroyed by Bornu, is another city I would have liked to see, since the city was described as being very large and since the images of Baguirmi cavalry and the cavalry from that general area that I have seen in drawings are impressive looking. I am not really a "fan" of that kingdom in particular, but since even some of the leaders of the less powerful pagan allies of Baguirmi were described as being "magnificent figures" (in appearance and bearing) by Nachtigal, the sight of Baguirmi's soldiers and allies marching out to face its stronger enemies (Wadai and Bornu) would be quite an interesting sight.

Kumbi Saleh, Carthage or Aksum at their heights would be great to see also.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,594
Benin City, Nigeria
#26
Benin City in particular is a good choice, the palace complex itself was described as a city within a city. Would be something to see. Travelers described that the walls of the houses shone like a looking glass, a rare effect achieved by mixing red clay with animal blood.
Actually, the effect was not achieved by using animal blood. A structure made out of clay/soil can be polished to a very high degree using other soil or soil mixed with water. Also it is not clear how animal blood in clay would confer any special shininess to the clay. Can you provide a reference to source of the "animal blood" idea?
 
#28
Ngazargamu actually was a center of scholarship. Not as much of one as Timbuktu or Jenne, but scholarly pursuits were supported by the state, and it attracted scholars from far away lands:

"Bornu had been a magnet for travelers, scholars, and merchants for many centuries. Barth was shown documents about its history dating to the first half of the sixteenth century. Using various histories and accounts, including oral ones, he traced the origins of Bornu's Saifawa dynasty to "a little before the year 900." The historical record became more clear from the twelfth century onward. (Barth saw an extract of a long written history of Bornu, but the main volumes were kept hidden because some members of the current regime were intent on destroying documents from the previous dynasty. The vizier showed Barth the extract but wouldn't let him touch it, and required him to read it from over his shoulder. Entitled The Kanem Wars of Idris Alooma, the chronicle dated to the late 1500s. Barth made a copy and sent it to Europe.) By the sixteenth century Bornu's immense territory encompassed Tibesti and Bilma to the north, Kanemi and Baguirmi to the east, and most of Air and Hausaland to the west. Its kings made the haj to Mecca. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Bornu became a center of Islamic learning, attracting scholars from throughout North Africa and even the Middle East. Educated men and their families established "mallam villages" where they farmed and studied together, exempt from taxes because of their religious scholarship." - Steve Kempner, A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, p.141

In a recently published doctoral dissertation that I came across, titled "There is no doubt. Muslim scholarship and society in 17th-century Central Sudanic Africa", the author, Dorrit van Dalen, describes the scholarly activity in Bornu while Ngazargamu was the capital:

"Birni Gazargamu was a centre of higher learning which attracted ulamā from the entire Niger-Chad region.87 Especially Mai Umar b. Idrīs (r. 1619-1639) and his son Mai Alī b. Umar supported Muslim learning in several ways. They invited scholars to their court, and gave others land in more remote parts of the country, where they could settle with their pupils and propagate Islam. The scholars not only received financial support, they were also supported by the interest the Mais took in their work and their participation in scholarly discussions.88 According to the Diwān al-salaṭīn Mai Alī himself was not only pious, but also ‘a courageous man and a great thinker’. His personal learning led to the belief that he could bring books from al-Azhar whenever he needed them, just by stretching out his arm.89 The strong scholarly network in the capital also made room for the activities of specialists such as calligraphers, and the fame of the beautiful Qur’āns they produced spread far and wide.90"

In that same dissertation, van Dalen also notes that some of Bornu's books were said by the ruler of Bornu to have been burned by the Fulani during their invasion. The author also notes that some historical works were burned when dynastic changes occurred:

"All our investigations must be affected by doubts created by the ever-recurrent stories of the destruction of books. It is commonly believed that during the Sokoto jihād, the revolutionaries destroyed the chronicles of the Hausa kingdoms they conquered.64 Bornu’s leader al-Kanemī blamed Dan Fodio for the fact that his warriors also destroyed books in Bornu with the pretext that they contained un-Islamic ideas, and Dan Fodio’s son Muḥammad Bello in his turn accused one of the Hausa kings of burning books as an act of war.65 Some decades later, Umar, the son of Bornu’s extra-dynastic leader al-Kanemī, was said to have burned the royal chronicles of Bornu."

The destruction of Ngazargamu brought an abrupt end to the scholarship there so this aspect of the city is probably not as well known for the additional reason that its scholarly tradition did not last as long as that of some other places.

Although the Fulani invaders destroyed Ngazargamu (though they failed to actually conquer Bornu and were eventually driven out of the country) the Bornu kingdom (no longer really an empire) later established a new capital at Kukawa, which was also quite an interesting place according to visitors, though it obviously would not have equaled Ngazargamu during Ngazargamu's prime in terms of how impressive it was.

"In 1808 dan Fodio's army of Fulanis destroyed the kingdom's capital, Ngazargamu. Bornu's beleaguered king, called the mai, asked an obscure mallam-turned-soldier living in Ngala, south of Lake Chad, to take command of the army. His name was Muhammed al-Kanemi. As a boy, al-Kanemi had gone to religious school in Murzuk, then moved to Tripoli to study under its scholars. After making the haj he stayed in the Middle East for about a decade to study. He returned to Africa and settled in Ngala, where he earned a reputation as a holy man. When the jihad began, this reputation helped him rally the local forces to repel the Fulani invaders. Word of this had reached the mai. Under al-Kanemi the Bornu army recaptured the capital and drove back the Fulanis. Al-Kanemi became Bornu's de facto ruler, though he neither deposed the mai nor called himself king. Instead he took the title of sheikh, or shehu. The mai, angry at being turned into a puppet, invited the kingdom of Baguirmi to invade and oust al-Kanemi. In the war that followed, Bagirmi forces overran Bornu, but Bagirmi soldiers accidentally killed the mai. Al-Kanemi soon pushed out the invaders. He later attacked Bagirmi and sacked its capital, where he captured the princess who would become Umar's mother. In 1814 al-Kanemi built a new capital about 15 miles west of Lake Chad. He called it Kukawa because of the neighborhood's many kuka trees (baobabs). When the first British expedition arrived a decade later, the city was thriving. After al-Kanemi died in 1835, he was succeeded by Umar, one of his forty-three sons." - A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, p.142

On p. 144 of A Labyrinth of Kingdoms, the author mentions how the kingdom of Wadai invaded Bornu (which was an attempt to restore the old Bornu dynasty of the mais to power, though the author does not state that) and destroyed Kukawa, and how that led to the rebuilding of the town in a different layout:

"A few years before Barth arrived, the kingdom of Wadai, northeast of Bornu, had invaded and destroyed Kukawa. When the Bornuese recaptured it, Umar rebuilt it as two towns, both walled, separated by a long broad avenue that was always lively with traffic."

In this book the author also mentions on p.146 that Kukawa also drew visitors from far off lands, as Ngazargamu had before it:

"Kukawa still attracted religious pilgrims from throughout the Islamic world - Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, Timbuktu, and the Middle East as well as Central Africa. The route from the Sudan to Mecca passed through Kukawa, which accounted for some of the pilgrims. So did the sheikh's reputation as a soft touch for religious travelers. Many of them stayed for years, collecting religious welfare by claiming their right to alms. Bornu was also a trade hub, drawing merchants from all four directions. The city was so crowded with travelers, from such far-flung places, that Barth postponed his study of the Kanuri language to glean geographical information from them. He called them his instructors, and plied them with coffee to keep them talking. They included a remarkable traveler who had roamed from Mali to Khorasan (northeastern Iran), and from Morocco to Fertit (in today's Central African Republic). This man usually traveled as a dervish. Another useful informant came from Sennar in Ethiopia. He had deserted the Turkish army after embezzling funds. He fled to Wadai, where he gave military training to the sultan's slaves. He was about to return there, this time as a spy for Sheikh Umar. Another learned man named Ibrahim had crossed the entire continent from west to east, then continued to Mecca. He had spent two years as a hostage in St. Louis on the Senegal coast, and remarked that the English were enthusiastic about distributing Bibles, the French about enjoying the native women."

The man who usually traveled as a dervish that Barth met in Kukawa was a native of Baghdad. What the purpose of all his extensive traveling was seems to be a mystery.

In the book The Encylopedia of Islam (1954), H.A.R. Gibb provides some additional information on Kukawa:

"After the Wadai sack in 1846, Kuka was rebuilt, but a new town was added to the east, and into this quarter the political leaders moved. The shehu's main palace was in the east town, although that in the west town was refurbished, and the shehu visited it from time to time, particularly at religious festivals. The west town, i.e. the original Kuka, became the residential area of non-titled families, and foreign merchants; it had the larger population. Each town was walled separately. (Kukawa is a plural form: there were in fact two Kuka towns)."

This avenue or thoroughfare (dendal) which joined the eastern and western walled towns that made up the city of Kukawa, was noted for its great and varied activity by both Heinrich Barth (in Travels and Discoveries) and later Gustav Nachtigal (in Sahara and Sudan). Barth's description of it is interesting:

"The most animated quarter of the two towns is the great thoroughfare, which, proceeding by the southern side of the palace in the western town, traverses it from west to east, and leads straight to the sheikh's residence in the eastern town. This is the "dendal" or promenade, a locality which has its imitation, on a less or greater scale, in every town of the country. This road, during the whole day, is crowded by numbers of people on horseback and on foot; free men and slaves, foreigners as well as natives, every one in his best attire, to pay his respects to the sheikh or his vizier, to deliver an errand, or to sue for justice or employment, or a present. I myself very often went along this well-trodden path - this high road of ambition; but I generally went at an unusual hour, either at sunrise in the morning, or while the heat of midday, not yet abated, detained the people in their cool haunts, or late at night, when the people were already retiring to rest, or, sitting before their houses, beguiling their leisure hours with amusing tales or with petty scandal. At such hours I was sure to find the vizier or the sheikh alone; but sometimes they wished me to also visit and sit with them, when they were accessible to all the people; and on these occasions the vizier took pride and delight in conversing with me about matters of science, such as the motion of the earth, or the planetary system, or subjects of that kind." - Heinrich Barth, Travels and discoveries in North and Central Africa - being a journal of an expedition undertaken under the auspices of H.B.M.'s government in the years 1849-1855

Barth also published a drawing he made of a part of the dendal of Kukawa in Travels and Discoveries:



Gustav Nachtigal - who had in fact been sent on a mission by king Wilhelm I of Prussia to thank Umar, the Shehu of Bornu, for his country's hospitable treatment of Heinrich Barth during Barth's stay in Bornu - remarked of the dendal in Sahara and Sudan that "Rides along this main thoroughfare were always of novel and enthralling interest" to him and that they revealed that a "life of variety and even splendor" existed in Kukawa.

Barth and Nachtigal also both noted the large extent of the (rebuilt) city of Kukawa. Barth remarked in Travels and Discoveries that he was "rather taken by surprise at seeing the large extent of the double town" and also noted the numerous "gorgeously dressed horsemen" that he met when he first entered the city. Unfortunately, Kukawa was destroyed at the end of the 19th century just as Ngazargamu had been destroyed at the beginning of the 19th century. Kukawa was destroyed not by the Fulani as Ngazargamu had been, but by the army of the renegade Sudanese warlord Rabih in 1893.

It would have been nice if even more information about Ngazargamu had survived of course, as that was certainly the greater city - certainly one of the great cities of the world during its prime - but the information collected about Kukawa in the 19th century shows that it was quite an interesting capital city in its own right. Had that city not also been reduced to nothing, we would have some great images of the surviving buildings of the dignitaries and royalty of the kingdom.





My answer to the actual question of the thread is that I cannot really narrow it down to just one city. I think either Benin or Ife would be my first choice, but I could also end up choosing something less obvious than one of those two.

Perhaps I would go for Kerma, Gao (before it became part of Mali), Meroe, Dongola (when Makuria was at its height), Kumase (mostly to see the dazzling pageantry of the Ashanti court in its totality and to see the architecture), or Mbanza Kongo.

Kernuk (or Karnak) when it was the capital of Baguirmi, before it was destroyed by Bornu, is another city I would have liked to see, since the city was described as being very large and since the images of Baguirmi cavalry and the cavalry from that general area that I have seen in drawings are impressive looking. I am not really a "fan" of that kingdom in particular, but since even some of the leaders of the less powerful pagan allies of Baguirmi were described as being "magnificent figures" (in appearance and bearing) by Nachtigal, the sight of Baguirmi's soldiers and allies marching out to face its stronger enemies (Wadai and Bornu) would be quite an interesting sight.

Kumbi Saleh, Carthage or Aksum at their heights would be great to see also.

Interesting information, I have read 10,000 miles through Islamic Africa numerous times myself. Very engaging read on the travels of Heinrich Barth. As for Kukawa, it probably didn't equal the former royal capital in splendor, it's population was not as large and by that time the use of baked bricks in architecture had long since been forgotten in Bornu, but it was still a important town and commercial center.

Good choices for the cities as well.


For the use of animal blood, it was more about adding a rich red color to the walls of the houses and complexes in benin, I should have rephrased. Richard W. Hull mentions it in African cities and towns before the European conquest.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,594
Benin City, Nigeria
#29

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