Lost civilisations in Africa
For history buffs, a visit to the Royal Palaces of Abomey is a must. Capital of the former Kingdom of Dahomey, from 1625 to the French colonisation in 1904, Abomey grew rich by supplying European traders with slaves captured on raids in West Africa's interior. The twelve palaces, one for each Dahomeyan King, have been restored (including ugly modern tin roofs), showcasing the original murals portraying animals, traditional thrones and og significant cultural illustrations. Two palaces have been converted into the Musée Historique d’Abomey showcasing Dahomeyan history, its symbolisms and resistance against colonial occupation. A throne, mounted on four actual human skulls of vanquished enemies is probably our dark favourite. The entire complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and local guides can show you another dozen historical sites around town.
Burkina's sole UNESCO World Heritage site, might not be of obvious interest to the average visitor, but anyone with interest in history will appreciate that this is one of very few precolonial stone ruins in all of West Africa. The Loropéni Ruins still lies unexcavated and is, essentially, little more than a square of overgrown grown walls that still pose somewhat of a mystery to the modern world. The walls are 6-7 metres high, completely without doors and windows, and cover an area of approximately 50 x 40 metres. Built around 1000 AD, they are generally thought to have served as a fort protecting the area's gold mines, from which the trans-Saharan caravan routes grew rich.
The region north of the Gambia River is dotted with thousands of stone circles. Dating from between 400 AD to 700 AD these circles are one of West Africa's most intriguing archaeological and historical mysteries and of course an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sites are numerous and cover an area of 35000 km2 in both the Gambia and Senegal. However, no-one knows exactly why the stone circles have been raised or who did it. They are raised on even older grave sites, which suggest that they are connected to the worship of ancestors. Further, as the area's current population moved into the region after the circles had been created, their oral tradition does not provide any clues as to why the stones were raised. The biggest sites are in Senegal, but they are mostly ignored by the authorities. Contrary, does the circles at Wassu have a small, informative museum, while the most interesting formations are at Ker Batch twenty kilometres further afield.
It's almost like the rocks have tumbled down the cliff-side and have just happened to come at a stand-still in such a way that they have formed streets, houses and city walls. 8.000 inhabitants call the modern city of Ouadane home. Below them, on the cliff-side, the ruins of ancient Ouadane is a proof that this place was an important caravan and scholarly town for more than 400 years during the Islamic medieval period. The town is visually most striking in the hours before sunset when its stones glow red. A good starting point is among the palms in the wadi at the foot of the hill. From here, move from the 14th-century mosque, up through the ruins of the "new" mosque - barely 200 years old - on the top of the hill at the edge of the new town. Ouadane also have a small museum, its fair share of ancient libraries, and is a good destination for camel treks originating in Chinguetti.
If you have seen Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator or Game of Thrones, then you will already be familiar with Aït Ben-Haddou – though you probably don't realise. The UNESCO World Heritage Site have featured numerous films and tv productions. Arriving at Aït Ben-Haddou, you quickly understand why. The fortified city, which used to be an important caravan stop between Marrakesh and the Sahara, consists of no less than six castles, with many of the houses grouped together behind more defensive walls. This creates a system of fortifications within fortifications. The granary on the hill's top offers good views of the surrounding area. Four families still live in the ancient city, while most others have moved to the modern village across the river bed. Located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas the drive to/from Marrakesh beautifully snakes through Morocco's highest mountains.