Ancient African Cities That Were Destroyed and Looted by Europeans
1. The Ancient city of Kilwa
In 1331, Ibn Battouta, described the Tanzanian city of Kilwa, of the Zanj, Swahili speaking people, as below
“one of the most beautiful and well-constructed cities in the world, the whole of it is elegantly built”.
Kilwa dates back to the 9th century and was at its peak in the 13th and 14th centuries. This international African port minted its own currency in the 11th -14th centuries. Remains of artefacts link it to Spain, China, Arabia and India.
A visitor in 1331 AD considered the Tanzanian city of Kilwa to be of world class. He wrote that it was the “principal city on the coast the greater part of whose inhabitants are Zanj of very black complexion.” Later on he says that: “Kilwa is one of the most beautiful and well-constructed cities in the world. The whole of it is elegantly built.”
In 1505 Portuguese forces led by Francisco de Almeida destroyed, burned down and occupied the Swahili city of Kilwa bringing the sultanate to an end after it refused to pay tribute.
In the early 1700s Portuguese colonies were invaded by the Sultanate of Oman, which rapidly occupied the East African coast. It was not enough to restore Kilwa to its former glory. The city was abandoned by the mid-19th century, but archaeological expeditions in the 60’s revived its fortunes.
The city ruins which was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1981, is a testimony to the robust Afro-Arabian culture that bloomed centuries ago.
2. Loango City
The Kingdom of Loango was a pre-colonial African state, during approximately the 16th to 19th centuries in what is now the western part of the Republic of the Congo, Southern Gabon and Cabinda. Situated to the north of the more powerful Kingdom of Kongo, at its height in the 17th century Loango influence extended from Cape St Catherine in the north to almost the mouth of the Congo River
Formerly dubbed the “beautiful city,” Loango City featured well-built cities, means of curing ailments by administering large amounts of pawpaw and palm oil and craftsmanship of materials such as damasks, sarsenet, satin, taffeta, cloth of tissue and velvet.
Loango City in the Congo/Angola had been depicted in drawings from the mid 1600’s to be a vast planned city of linear layout, stretching across several miles and entirely surrounded by city walls, bustling with trade. The king`s complex alone was a mile and a half enclosure with courtyards and gardens.
The people of Loango had used maths not just for arithmetic purposes but for astrological calculations. They used advanced maths, linear algebra. The Ishango Bone from the Congo is a calculator that is 25,000 years old.
The city was documented as ceasing to exist due to European treasure hunters, pseudo-missionaries and others who took advantage of the resources within the city.
3. Kingdom of Mutapa
Kingdom of Mutapa also spelled as Monomotapan was an African empire covering vast territories in what are now modern day Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and South Africa.
One seventeenth century visitor to southern African empire of Monomotapa, wrote that: “The people dress in various ways: at court of the Kings their grandees wear cloths of rich silk, damask, satin, gold and silk cloth; these are three widths of satin, each width four covados , each sewn to the next, sometimes with gold lace in between, trimmed on two sides, like a carpet, with a gold and silk fringe, sewn in place with a two fingers’ wide ribbon, woven with gold roses on silk.”
Apparently the Monomotapan royal palace were gilt with golden plates alongside ivory chandeliers which hung on silver chains and filled the halls with light. An eighteenth century geography book provided the following data: “The inside consists of a great variety of sumptuous apartments, spacious and lofty halls, all adorned with a magnificent cotton tapestry, the manufacture of the country. The floors, cielings , beams and rafters are all either gilt or plated with gold curiously wrought, as are also the chairs of state, tables, benches &c. The candle-sticks and branches are made of ivory inlaid with gold, and hang from the cieling by chains of the same metal, or of silver gilt.”
Monomotapa also had a social welfare system in place. Antonio Bocarro, a Portuguese contemporary, wrote the below
“The Emperor shows great charity to the blind and maimed, for these are called the king’s poor, and have land and revenues for their subsistence, and when they wish to pass through the kingdoms, wherever they come food and drinks are given to them at the public cost as long as they remain there, and when they leave that place to go to another they are provided with what is necessary for their journey, and a guide, and some one to carry their wallet to the next village. In every place where they come there is the same obligation.”
In, 1571 Portuguese forces invade Munhumutapa, and started the destruction of the place.
Kumasi was the capital of the Asante Kingdom, 10th-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.
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.”
The beautiful city of Kumasi was blown up, destroyed by fire, and looted by the British at the end of the 19th century. The destruction were mainly due to Ashanti attempts to establish a stronghold over the coastal areas of present-day Ghana
5. Ancient city of Benin
The mediaeval Nigerian city of Benin was built to “a scale comparable with the Great Wall of China”. There was a vast system of defensive walling totalling 10,000 miles in all. Even before the full extent of the city walling had become apparent the Guinness Book of Records carried an entry in the 1974 edition that described the city as: “The largest earthworks in the world carried out prior to the mechanical era.”
“Benin art of the Middle Ages was of the highest quality. An official of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde once stated that: “These works from Benin are equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique. Benvenuto Cellini could not have cast them better, nor could anyone else before or after him . . . Technically, these bronzes represent the very highest possible achievement.”
Here is another account of the great Benin City regarding the city walls “They extend for some 16,000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6500 square kilometres and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet.”
Sadly, in 1897, Benin City was destroyed by British forces under Admiral Harry Rawson. The city was looted, blown up and burnt to the ground. A collection of the famous Benin Bronzes are now in the British Museum in London. Part of the 700 stolen bronzes by the British troops were sold back to Nigeria in 1972.
7. City of Mombasa
Five hundred years ago an act of force and terror symbolised a key turning point for all of Africa’s people. Portuguese adventurers sacked the city of Mombasa in what is now Kenya, slaughtering many of its inhabitants and destroying great cultural treasures.
The Portuguese attempted to justify their plunder by reference to religious morality. Much of East Africa was Muslim, so Christian rulers said there was a duty to win it back. Pope Nicholas V, who had already blessed the Portuguese assault on Africa, confirmed that it was justified to enslave non-believers. Such an ideology led to many atrocities.
When they arrived at a city in their heavily armed vessels, the conquering forces would demand that the rulers accept Portuguese control and pay huge annual tributes. Cities that refused were attacked, burned and much of their populations killed.
The Portuguese attacked Zanzibar first. In 1503 the sea captain Ruy Luourenco Ravasco, working on his own initiative, blasted at the townspeople with his ship’s cannon until the sultan of Zanzibar agreed to pay an annual tribute. For the rest of that year Ravasco and his companions sailed up and down the coast, seizing ships and ransoming them for payment in gold.
The sultan of Mombasa refused to pay tribute to the Portuguese and continued to maintain direct trading contacts with Arabia and the Persian Gulf.
Because of this defiance, the city was partially destroyed in 1505 and then was subject to two further sackings in 1528 and 1589. After the third attack the Portuguese built a huge fortress at Mombasa which they called Fort Jesus. Completed in 1599, Fort Jesus became the main centre of Portuguese authority in Eastern Africa for the next century.
8. Kingdom of Kongo
The Kingdom of Kongo appeared in the thirteenth century and stretched from Gabon in the north to the river Kwanza in the south, and from the Atlantic in the west to the river Cuango in the east. Mbanza Kongo, the capital, had a population of 50,000 people.
Their wealth came mainly from agriculture. Power was in the hands of the Mani, aristocrats who occupied key positions in the kingdom and who answered only to the all-powerful King of the Kongo. Mbanza was the name given to a territorial unit administered and ruled by a Mani; Mbanza Kongo, the capital, had a population of over fifty thousand in the sixteenth century.
A revolt against Portuguese rule was what triggered the collapse of the Kongo kingdom, which was then fully integrated into the Portuguese colony of Angola. Until its destruction by the Portuguese, Kongo was an organized stable, politically centralized society based upon a subsistence economy. The Kongo is significant in exploring the historic contexts of African American heritage because the majority of all Africans enslaved in the Southern English colonies were from West Central Africa.
UNESCO World Heritage Centre, excerpt from “The Invisible Empire” byPD Lawton
Source: Ta Neter Foundation. It is on view in a museum in Belgium. – Excerpt from “The Invisible Empire” by PD Lawton
Wikipedia, Architecture of Africa.” Fred Pearce the New Scientist 11/09/99.
“The Invisible Empire”, PD Lawton, Source-YouTube, uploader-dogons2k12 `African Historical Ruins`