Buildings and Architecture in Africa
© Johnny Haglund
The old Grande Mosquee in Agadez dates back to 1515, but was totally rebuilt in 1844. In the early morning light, the minaret of clay and wood shines with warm colors, while people dressed in colorful clothes, moves around. It's a magical place, with all the sounds and sights, and the smell of the desert.
Agadez lies in the Sahara Desert, and the sandy streets, the mud brick buildings and dry heat of the desert, creates a wonderful atmosphere. For a small fee you can climb the minaret, which will give you good views of the city.
Agadez is a about 13 hours by bus from the capital Niamey, but you can also fly here - even from France.
This lovely old plantation has undergone a transformation and is now a luxury plantation hotel. The entrance gate is flanked with old cannons and the main mansion is well kept. You don't have to stay here to enjoy the vista from the porch. The view stretches over the top of the canopies, all the way down to Bombom Resort. There is also a small informative museum about Sao Tome in general.
This old plantation turned-hotel is not as big as Roca Belo Monte, but equal interesting. It was here Sir Arthur Eddington observed a solar eclipse in 1919 that proved Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity. There is a memorial plate at the side of the manson. The grounds also has a lovely old overgrown ruin.
Anyone who believes that traditional African architecture and building techniques are limited to small round clay huts with straw roofs is surely mistaken. Evidence of this in Senegal comes in two forms, both found in the southern Casamance region, but thought to originate elsewhere in West Africa. The casa à étage is a massive structure. Build in two stores by mud, wood and other local materials, these are created by impeccable craftsmanship and are, deservingly so, admired throughout the region. The other, the casa à impluvium translate into "rain reservoir hut". Its doughnut-shaped construction provides a central, circular and shaded courtyard, surrounded by internal doors into a number of private rooms. This ingenious design would make sure that rainwater would be collected in the middle of the yard as an insurance against the region's dry climate. Luckily for the visitor, many of these traditional houses have been made into local run hotels and campements making it easy to admire them in detail.
The House of Slaves is the lone survivor of 28 slave houses that used to operate out of Gorée. It is popular with American visitors and Dakar school classes alike. Visitors come to experience the dark chambers, the isolation cells under the staircases, and the "Door of No Return". All mark they the grim realities of Europe's first exploitation of the African continent. And while academics discuss how many slaves that did spend their last days on the African continent here, the Maison symbolic value remains undeniable. Most unbelievable are the thin planks that made up both the slaves ceiling and the slave traders living room floor. How it was possible to live directly on top of such misery is baffling.
East of present day Kande have the Tamberma people through centuries protected themselves by living in one family fortresses, so called Tata Houses. The small defense complexes are built with sticks and mud, and are decked out with watch towers which doubles as silos and sleeping chambers. The houses are built very functional with everything within the house, so they could withstand long sieges. Though the people don't have to fear slave traders today, some families still live in the fortresses. In 2004 the Tata Houses were enlisted as a UNESCO Heritage site - Togo's one and only. It's possible for a fee to visit the houses, also the inside and roof. It's a good idea to bring a guide, who can explain the many weird things, like the fetishes which usually decorate the entrance (can be hired at the gate near the Kande).
They say "Good things come in small packages". This is certainly true about the town of Tozeur and it's pint-sized old town. It is the old town's wonderful traditional brickwork, dating back to the 14th century, laid in unique and original patterns that give the place it's 'wow' factor. Every building is carefully hand crafted to be just a little different, or tied together with a neighbourhood motif. But the town is not a one-hit wonder. The large palm forest is a pleasure to walk through as you stumble upon tiny villages tucked into the groves. Day-trips out to Ong Jemel (Star Wars set) are available. And there's a very surreal park with one of the most bizarre Mount Rushmore homages. Tozeur is full of wonderful unique oddities.
Throughout the region, the Berber people are renowned for their resourcefulness in living in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth. They manage to find a harmony with the land to provide the essentials of life, like food and shelter. Nowhere is this more apparent then in the tiny village of Matmata. In order to stay cool in the sweltering mid-summer heat and warm in the surprising cold of winter, they have building their homes into the ground, literally. 5-10 meter deep artificial craters act as a central courtyard to rooms dug into the steep walls. The best way to experience this unique accommodation is to stay overnight. It's also the best way to experience the friendly village of Matmata. Most tourists show up on luxury buses, take pictures of the cave that was Luke Skywalker's home and leave. Spending the night seems to allow the village to open up to you, before getting closed into your cave room.