Facts, Travel

7 Oldest Buildings in Africa

You have probably heard Africa referred to as the “cradle of humanity.” As you might expect given its important role in human development, there are some stupendously ancient structures still standing on the continent. While many of them are barely recognizable as buildings (appearing more like unfinished mounds), others are very well preserved, dating back as far as 2667–2648 BC.

You will notice that almost everything in this list is a pyramid. This is simply because almost all of the most ancient structures in Africa which are complete enough to classify as “buildings” were constructed as tombs in ancient Egypt.

The one exception included in this list is the Yeha Temple (below) in Ethiopia. It is not really the seventh most ancient building in Africa (it is easily beat out by quite a few pyramids), but it was included in this article for the sake of variety.

The 7 Oldest Buildings in Africa

7. Yeha Temple, Ethiopia (500 BC)

Known as the “Great Temple of the Sun and Moon,” Yeha Temple is located in the town Yeha in the northern Tigray Region of Ethiopia. It is the most ancient Ethiopian building still standing today. Constructed in the Sabaean style of architecture, it is believed that the structure has stood the test of time because it was built on a firm foundation, and also because it was converted in the sixth century AD into a Christian church. Find more examples of ancient churches in Africa.

Yeha Temple

Yeha Temple – image credit to: Jialiang Gao – CC BY-SA 3.0

6. Pyramid of Khafre, Egypt (c. 2500 BC)

Also known as the “Pyramid of Chephren,” this ancient structure is the second largest as well as the second tallest of the Ancient Egyptian Pyramids of Giza. It serves as a tomb for Khafre (also known as Chefren), a Fourth-Dynasty pharaoh who reigned between c. 2558 and 2532 BC.

Pyramid of Khafre

Pyramid of Khafre – image credit to: Mgiganteus – CC BY-SA 3.0

Surrounding the pyramid are a number of temples, some of which are reasonably well preserved. At one time, there were also more than 50 statues of the pharaoh, but they were removed during ancient times and presumably recycled. Some historians believe that Ramses II was responsible for this. There was also at one point a satellite pyramid located to the south of the main pyramid, but only the outlines of its foundation and a few blocks still remain.

5. Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt (c. 2560 BC)

The most famous of all Egyptian pyramids is of course the Great Pyramid of Giza, arguably also the most famous building in all of Africa, new or old. It is also referred to as the Pyramid of Cheops or the Pyramid of Khufu. As the largest of the three Ancient Egyptian Pyramids of Giza, it has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Great Pyramid of Giza

Great Pyramid of Giza – image credit to: Wknight94 CC BY-SA 3.0

It is thought that it took around 10-20 years to build the pyramid around 2560 BC. For more than 3,800 years, it was the tallest man-made structure anywhere on the planet. During ancient times, its surface would have been smooth, covered over with casing stones. Inside are at least three chambers: the Queen’s Chamber, the King’s Chamber and one lower chamber. As is common with Egyptian pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza is surrounded by a complex which includes smaller satellite pyramids and temples and structures.

4. Red Pyramid, Egypt (c. 2580 BC)

Slightly older than the Great Pyramid of Giza is the Red Pyramid, also known as the North Pyramid. This is the largest of three pyramids to be found in the Dahshur necropolis in Cairo. It takes its name from the color of the limestone from which it is constructed, which has a slight reddish hue.

Red Pyramid

Red Pyramid – image credit to: lienyuan lee – CC BY 3.0

Like the Great Pyramid of Giza, it was once likely smooth-sided, and is the third largest pyramid in all of Egypt. Curiously enough, the Tura limestone which would have once encased it was white, not red—so the Red Pyramid wasn’t red at all in ancient times.

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