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Africa’s World Heritage

Lake Retba

It’s sad to witness that the world will wait for tragic events like those happening in Timbuktu in order to realize that; yes, Africa has a huge cultural heritage. Out of the 962 sites designated by the UNESCO, 128 can be found in Africa. The first site to be  inscribed was the Goréee Islands of Senegal in 1978 whereas Ethiopia is home to nine sites; making the country the one with the most. Here’s a quick list of Africa’s protected heritage sites.

Aapravasi Ghat, Mauritius: located in the district of Port Louis, the immigration office ( constructed in 1849) used to serve as a gateway for newly arrived Indian labourers. There, sanitary control would be performed, tickets, marriage certificates and passes would be delivered. In the 1970s, the site was threatened by the construction of a bus station; the project led to the wrecking of the edifices. It was declared a World Heritage site in 2006. The legacy of the migrant workers are still present in today’s Mauritian society as their descendants represent an estimated 60 per cent of the island’s population.

Air and Ténéré Natural Reserves, Niger: the second largest nature reserve in Africa was inscribed in 1991 based on the following criterias: an outstanding example representing major stages of Earth’s history*, an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes**, an important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity***. It covers an area of 77,000 km2 and contains a flora and diverse desert fauna where gazelles, antelopes, ostrich and sheeps can be found. Prehistoric remains show that the area was inhabited by nomadic Tuareg agriculturists. The Air is an endangered site since 1992, due to the lack of maintenance and the fauna is threatened with extinction.

Gorée Island, Senegal: a popular touristic attraction, the small Island was once a center of the Atlantic slave trade. The House of Slaves, famous for its “Door of No Return” displays artifacts and many museums, universities, churches and botanical gardens can also be found there. The Historic Museum, which is a part of the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa is devoted to spread the history of Pre-Colonial Africa and the independence years. The Goree Institute promotes pan-Africanism, learning and knowledge of culture. Despite its popularity, researchers affirm that Gorée played a minor role in the trade. The Island was the first African site to be chosen by the UNESCO’s committee. Gorée remains one of the most visited places in Africa.

Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania: Africa’s highest mountain was declared a World Heritage site in 1987 because of its areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. The volcanic massif encloses an alpine desert, vegetation parks, mountains covered with ice and snow, large forests and a vast and diverse fauna ( mostly antelopes, birds, elephants and buffalos). The Park is open to visitors throughout the year, activities such as hikes of the Shira plateau, fishing and many other are available to the public. The surrounding areas of the Park are inhabited by local ethnic groups. The site is also famous for its white-necked raven.

Lake Turkana National Parks, Kenya: also known as the Jade Sea, the desert-lake covers an area of 161,485 hectares and is Africa’s fourth largest lake. It contains fossil records, testifying of an early presence and the fauna is mostly made of threatened species: crocodiles, zebras, lions, cheetahs, hippopotamus, aquatic and terrestrial birds. Scientists have discovered more than 100 archaeological sites in the area, making the park even more sacred due to its evidence of records of past human lives. With a population estimated at 12 000, Turkana holds the world’s largest crocodiles community.

Lalibela’s Rock-Hewn Churches, Ethiopia: located in one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, the eleven medieval monolithic churches are a testimony of the country’s building tradition. A legendary account attributes its construction to a King named Lalibela, after he received a message from God, ordering him to make another Jerusalem: it’s said that the builders were assisted by angels. The construction took less than 25 years. Like the Gorée Islands, the site was inscribed in 1978 and described as a “creative masterpiece”. The Churches, that were carved from soft red volcanic rock are believed to date from the 7th century. Today, Lalibela is open to tourists and serves as a Christian pilgrimage shrine.

Nubian Monuments, Egypt: considered creative masterpieces and testimonies of cultural tradition, the monuments of Abu Simbel, located in Nubia, have been inscribed in 1979 and cover an area of 374 hectares. The site is famous for hosting the temple of pharaoh Ramesses the Great and was built in twenty years. Visitors, accompanied by a tour guide can have an insight into some elements of the great civilization of Ancient Egypt, like the temple of Nefertari, statues, and animals carvings. The monuments often serve as inspirations and examples in popular culture with movies like Death on the Nile.

Meroe, Sudan: located in the east of the Nile, the Ancient City and former capital of the Kingdom of Kush is part of the World’s heritages list since June 2011. The legendary kingdom is famous for its pharaonic civilization ( competing against Ancient Egypt), power, wealth, strong iron industry, and trading. The Kingdom, ruled by the Nubian people was so prosperous that it was often under attacks, coming not only from neighboring territories but also from places like Persia. The Ruler was said to receive divine orders from God whereas the Queens were all referred to as Kandake, which can be translated to Reigning Mother. Some of the pyramids contain the remains of a few members of the Royal family.

Retba Lake, Senegal: Though not officially a part of the UNESCO’s list (its candidature is pending), Lake Retba or Lac Rose is a jewel of Senegal and a marvelous natural site open to the public. The pink lake lies north of the Cap Verdian peninsula. Natural activities like salt collecting and fishing are done everyday by local workers. The glowing pink color is the result of an excessive salt ( 40 per cent) content produced by Dunaliella salina, a halophile green micro-algae type. Depending on the season, the color varies from purple to scarlet pink. Retba used to be the final point of the Dakar rally. Each year, the “strawberry lake” attracts tourists from around the world.

Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe: the authentic and indigenous name is Mosi-oa-Tunya. The waterfall ( which is the largest in the world) has its source in the Zambezi river, at the junction of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Stone artifacts from 3 million years ago, stone age weapons and adornments have been discovered there. Mosi-oa-Tunya is surrended by two national parks where animals such as white rhinos, buffalo, leopards, giraffes, zebra, fishes, hippopotamus, as well as vegetation can be found. It was introduced to the   UNESCO World Heritage Site’s list in 1989. The waterfalls welcome tourists from all parts of the world each year, the Devil’s Pool which is located near the edge of the falls is the more popular attraction.

Old Towns of Djenné, Mali: build on a island (the date is unsure but it was apparently built in the 15th century), Djenné was a leading point of the trans-Saharan trade where gold, salt and goods would be exchanged. The renowned Great Mosque of Djené, built in 1907 is the largest monument in the world made of raw earth. The city is inhabited by nomadic and sedentary ethnic groups. Djenné’s history is linked to Timbuktu, as they traded and both were center of  Islamic scholarship and teaching. The towns are recognizable for their Sudano-Sahelian architectural style using mudbrick. Djenné was added by UNESCO in 1988 because it bears an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition and civilization.****

Saloum Delta, Senegal: The Sine Saloum takes its name from the Saloum River and its main tributary, the Sine. It constitutes over 70% of the groundnut basin. It was once home to the Serer kingdom. The Delta is considered one of the most beautiful sites in Senegal, covering an area of approximately 180,000 hectares. Kaolack, the administrative capital has a large crushing plant and the largest market in Senegal. The Saloum Delta is also known for its royal battles sponsored by the King: people choose the better agriculturist and shower him with gifts. It’s also a place of meeting for young people. The delta was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 2011.

Stone Town, Zanzibar: this old city of Zanzibar was built in the 19th century and was the main trading centre of the Indian Ocean. Several historical monuments are found in the town, like the very popular House of Wonders (constructed in 1883), it is named this way because it was the first East African building to receive inventions such as electricity and elevator. Today, the House of Wonders host the Museum of Swahili History and Culture that offers element of the island’s history as well as the history of East Africa. The town is inhabited by local residents.

Tsingy of Bemaraha, Madagascar: located in Western Madagascar and added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 1990 because it contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance***** and a great biological diversity, Tsingy (meaning forest) of Bemaraha is a natural reserve covering an area of ​​157 710 hectares. Its wildlife is home to rare species of birds such as the white-throated crake as well as chameleons and other, its flora has more than 700 plant species. The national park is open to tourists who can access it by road from the city of Morondava.

Tsodilo, Botswana: located in north-west of the country, the hills are a part of the history of the San people of the Kalahari desert who believe that the spirits of the deceased rest there. Paintings and other Art remains are also part of the site’s history. The hills are said to represent thousands of years of human habitation.

The Ounianga Lakes of Chad, as well as the Dzanga-Sangha National Park of the  Central African Republic and cities like Grand-Bassam ( the Ivory Coast) and Rabat (Morocco) will soon make their entrance to the UNESCO’s list. The rest can be seen here.


* / ** / ***/**** : in accordance with the UNESCO’s World Heritage’s criterias.

Photos courtesy of Google.



2 thoughts on “Africa’s World Heritage

  1. Very interesting thank you. The Retba is beautiful

    Posted by jbeary | July 31, 2012, 12:01 am


  1. Pingback: The Various Hues that Change Constantly with Lake Retba in Senegal - July 30, 2013

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