African Architecture in Antiquity
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African Buildings in Antiquity

stone columns building
Hathor temple at Naqa (modern Sudan), ca. 10 AD

Trade continued to increase, Africa kept on getting richer, and more people built stone buildings in the first centuries AD. In East Africa, the queens of Kush (in modern Sudan) built stone temples and palaces.

El Djem
The amphitheater of El Djem,
in southern Tunisia (150 AD)

Being part of the Roman Empire made North Africa much richer than it had been before, and between 100 BC and 400 AD people built many stone buildings all over North Africa, from Egypt to Morocco. About 100 AD, they built the great amphitheater at El Djem (modern Tunisia), one of the largest amphitheaters in the Roman Empire. They built a great city at Lepcis Magna (modern Libya) with triumphal arches, a forum, and many stone houses with mosaic floors and marble decorating the walls.

stone theater seats and stage
Theater at Lepcis Magna (Libya), ca. 100 AD

Near the Atlantic coast in Morocco, Volubilis - the capital of Juba and Cleopatra Selene - grew bigger and gained a stone city wall, a sewage system, stone temples, an aqueduct and public baths, and a basilica, as well as many fine houses. It may have housed about 20,000 people.

cave-like rooms carved into a cliff
Early Egyptian monks' cells at Dayr Abu Hinnis
(thanks to Samuel Rubenson)

Further east in Egypt, people also built many new stone temples, houses, theaters and all sorts of buildings. By the 300s AD, newly Christian monks and nuns re-created India's rock-cut Buddhist monasteries in Egypt's desert on either side of the Nile River. In and around Carthage, Christian congregations adapted Roman basilicas into some of the earliest Christian churches.

Across the Sahara Desert in West Africa, people were still building mainly in mud-brick at Djenne-Djenno. Down the coast of East Africa it was the same story. Even though people were beginning to get richer by trading with India and with the Arabs, they still built mainly in mud-brick.

Learn by doing: build a model of an amphitheater
More about African Architecture - the Middle Ages

Bibliography and further reading about African Architecture:

African Architecture in the Middle Ages home

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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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  • Carr, K.E. . Study Guides, . Web. 24 April, 2017