Africa, 1100-1980 CE Architecture

Topic 2: Architecture

  • Among the oldest monumental structures in Africa, and perhaps the most celebrated, is the architectural complex of Great Zimbabwe which covers 1800 acres in the southeastern area of the country now also known as Zimbabwe, in southern Africa. Early European explorers in the region did not believe that it could be a native African creation, attributing it to an outside culture. However, research has since established that Great Zimbabwe was built by Bantu-speaking peoples beginning in the eleventh century C.E.

  • The complex probably housed the city's elite class while the rest of the population, which may have numbered around 10, 000, lived nearby. Some of the complex's stone walls reach 36 feet in height; they would originally have been covered in dried mud and thatch, and connected by other structures in the same materials. Also celebrated are the monumental carved soapstone birds found at the site.

  • Dried mud is often employed by African builders and architects. Thousands of miles north of Great Zimbabwe, in the Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara, builders of the Sudano-Sahelian style used mud brick and adobe to create monumental structures that testify to the links between Africa and the wider world. In the time of the Mali Empire, which flourished between the 13th and 16th centuries C.E. in what is now the country of Mali, the cities of Djenne and Timbuktu were centers of Muslim culture and learning. The great mosque of Djenne and the shrines and mosque of Timbuktu testify to the role this region played in the expansion of Muslim art and culture.

Related Links:
Africa Quiz
Sculptural and Figurative Art
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes