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African Cities that Changed the World; A Journey into Time

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We have only a few drawings and descriptions of travelers who visited these places before their destruction. In some places, ruins are still visible. Many cities were abandoned when Europeans brought exotic diseases (smallpox and flu) that began to spread and kill people. Most of these cities are hidden. In fact, much of Africa’s history is still underground.

Let’s start with Benin city. At the end of the 13th century, a European traveler encountered the great metropolis in West Africa (present-day Nigeria, Edo state), writing: “the city seems very large. When you enter it, you come to a large wide street, unpaved, which seems seven or eight times as wide as the Varmo street in Amsterdam … The Royal Palace is a collection of buildings that take up as much space as the city of Harlem and are surrounded by walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince’s Ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as large as the stock exchange in Amsterdam. They are supported by wooden columns sheathed in copper, which depict their victories and are carefully kept clean. The city consists of thirty main streets, very straight and 120 feet wide, not counting an infinite number of small intersecting streets. The houses are located close to each other, in good order. These people are not inferior to the Dutch in terms of cleanliness; they wash and scrub their houses so well that they are polished and Shine like a mirror.(Source: Walter Rodney ‘ “how Europe Undeveloped Africa”, p. 69)

The medieval Nigerian city of Benin was built on a “scale comparable to the great wall of China”. There was an extensive system of defensive walls with a total length of 10,000 miles. Even before the full size of the city walls became apparent, an entry in the Guinness Book of world records in the 1974 edition described the city as “ ” the largest earthworks in the world made before the mechanical era.”- Excerpt from “the invisible Empire”, PD Lawton, source-YouTube Uploader-dogons2k12 ‘ African historical ruins`

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“The art of Benin in the Middle ages was of the highest quality. Employee of the Berlin Museum für Volkerkunde once said: “These works from Benin are equal to the best examples of European Foundry equipment. Benvenuto Cellini could not have played them better, nor could anyone else before or after him . . .

Technically, these bronzes represent the highest possible achievement.”
Unfortunately, in 1897, Benin city was destroyed by British troops under the command of Admiral Harry Rawson. The city was looted, blown up, and burned to the ground. The collection of famous Beninese Bronzes is now in the British Museum in London. Some of the 700 bronzes stolen by British troops were sold to Nigeria in 1972.

Here is another great Benin city story about the city walls “ ” they extend for about 16,000 kilometers in total, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6,500 square kilometers and where people live all day Is. In total, they are four times longer than the great wall of China and consume a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took about 150 million hours of excavation to build,and are arguably the largest archaeological phenomenon on the planet.”Source: Wikipedia, architecture of Africa.- Fred Pierce, New Scientist, 11.09.99.

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Did you know that in the 14th century the city of Tim­buktu in West Africa was five times bigger than the city of London, and was the richest city in the world?

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Today, Timbuktu is 236 times smaller than London. It has little to show of a modern city. Its population is two times less than 5 centuries ago, im­poverished with beggars and dirty street sellers. The town itself is incapable of conserv­ing its past ruined monuments and archives.
Back in the 14 century, the 3 richest places on earth was China, Iran/Irak, and the Mali empire in West Africa. From all 3 the only one which was still independent and pros­perous was the Mali Empire.

Eventually China and the whole of the Middle East were conquered by Genghis Kan Mongol troops which ravaged, pillaged, and raped the places. The Mali empire lived on un­der the rule of the richest man ever in the history of human­ity, Mansa Musa, emperor of the 14th century Mali Empire which covered modern day Mali, Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea.

At the time of his death in 1331, Mansa Musa was worth the equivalent of 400 billion dollars. At that time Mali Em­pire was producing more than half the world’s supply of salt and gold.

When Mansa Musa went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, he carried so much gold, and spent them so lavishly that the price of gold fell for ten years. 60 000 people accompanied him.
He founded the library of Timbuktu, and the famous manuscripts of Timbuktu which cover all areas of world knowledge were written during his reign.

Witnesses of the greatness of the Mali empire came from all part of the world. “Sergio Domian, an Italian art and ar­chitecture scholar, wrote the following about this period: ‘Thus was laid the foundation of an urban civilisation. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated.’
The Malian city of Timbuktu had a 14th century popula­tion of 115,000 – 5 times larger than mediaeval London.

National Geographic recent­ly described Timbuktu as the Paris of the mediaeval world, on account of its intellectual culture. According to Profes­sor Henry Louis Gates, 25,000 university students studied there.

“Many old West African families have private library collections that go back hun­dreds of years. The Maurita­nian cities of Chinguetti and Oudane have a total of 3,450 hand written mediaeval books. There may be another 6,000 books still surviving in the other city of Walata. Some date back to the 8th century AD. There are 11,000 books in pri­vate collections in Niger.

In Timbuktu today, there are about 700,000 surviving books. They are written in Mande, Suqi, Fulani, Timbuc­tu, and Sudani. The contents of the manuscripts include math, medicine, poetry, law and as­tronomy. The world’s first en­cyclopedia was created in Mali in the 14th century, eons be­fore the Europeans got the idea 4 centuries later.

A collection of one thousand six hundred books was consid­ered a small library for a West African scholar of the 16th century. Professor Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu is recorded as saying that he had the small­est library of any of his friends – he had only 1600 volumes.
Concerning these old manu­scripts, actor Michael Palin, in his TV series ‘Sahara’, said the imam of Timbuktu “has a collection of scientific texts that clearly show the planets circling the sun.

They date back hundreds of years . . . Its convincing evidence that the scholars of Timbuktu knew a lot more than their coun­terparts in Europe. In the fif­teenth century in Timbuktu the mathematicians knew about the rotation of the plan­ets, knew about the details of the eclipse, they knew things which we had to wait for 150 almost 200 years to know in Europe when Galileo and Co­pernicus came up with these same calculations and were given a very hard time for it.”

The old Malian capital of Ni­ani had a 14th century building called the Hall of Audience. It was an surmounted by a dome, adorned with arabesques of striking colours. The windows of an upper floor were plated with wood and framed in sil­ver; those of a lower floor were plated with wood, framed in gold.

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Malian sailors got to Amer­ica in 1311 AD, 181 years be­fore Columbus. An Egyptian scholar, Ibn Fadl Al-Umari, published on this sometime around 1342. In the tenth chapter of his book, there is an account of two large mari­time voyages ordered by the predecessor of Mansa Musa, a king who inherited the Malian throne in 1312. This mariner king is not named by Al-Umari, but modern writers identify him as Mansa Abuba­kari II.” Excerpt from Robin Walker’s book, ‘WHEN WE RULED’

Those event were happen­ing at the same period when Europe as a continent was plunged into the Dark Age, ravaged by plague and famine, its people killing one another for religious and ethnic rea­sons.

“Kumasi was the capital of the Asante Kingdom, 10th cen­tury-20th century. Drawings of life in Kumasi show homes, often of 2 stories, square build­ings with thatched roofs, with family compounds arranged around a courtyard. The Man­hyia Palace complex drawn in another sketch was similar to a Norman castle, only more el­egant in its architecture.

“These 2 story thatched homes of the Ashanti Kingdom were timber framed and the walls were of lath and plaster construction. A tree always stood in the courtyard which was the central point of a fam­ily compound. The Tree of Life was the altar for family offer­ings to God, Nyame. A brass pan sat in the branches of the tree into which offerings were placed. This was the same in every courtyard of every household, temple and palace. The King`s representatives, of­ficials, worked in open-sided buildings. The purpose being that everyone was welcome to see what they were up to.

“The townhouses of Kumase had upstairs toilets in 1817.This city in the 1800s is docu­mented in drawings and pho­tographs. Promenades and public squares, cosmopolitan lives, exquisite architecture and everywhere spotless and ordered, a wealth of architec­ture, history, prosperity and extremely modern living” – PD Lawton, AfricanAgenda.net

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Winwood Reade described his visit to the Ashanti Royal Palace of Kumasi in 1874: “We went to the king’s palace, which consists of many courtyards, each surrounded with alcoves and verandahs, and having two gates or doors, so that each yard was a thoroughfare . . . But the part of the palace fronting the street was a stone house, Moorish in its style . . . with a flat roof and a parapet, and suites of apartments on the first floor. It was built by Fanti masons many years ago.

The rooms upstairs remind me of Wardour Street. Each was a perfect Old Curiosity Shop. Books in many languages, Bohemian glass, clocks, silver plate, old furniture, Persian rugs, Kidderminster carpets, pictures and engravings, num­berless chests and coffers.

A sword bearing the inscription From Queen Victoria to the King of Ashantee. A copy of the Times, 17 October 1843. With these were many speci­mens of Moorish and Ashanti handicraft.” – Robin Walter

The beautiful city of Kumasi was blown up, destroyed by fire, and looted by the British at the end of the 19th century.

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AJAYI Temitope Samuel, A blogger by profession for the past 8 years. He studied Political Science at the Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, Contact: +2348137451665 Twitter: @globalgistng1,
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