You have probably heard Africa called the “cradle of humanity.” As you might assume given its critical function in human development, there are a few stupendously ancient structures still status on the continent. While many of them are barely recognizable as buildings (appearing extra like unfinished mounds), others are thoroughly preserved, dating lower back as some distance as 2667–2648 BC.
You will observe that almost everything on this listing is a pyramid. This is genuinely because nearly all of the maximum historical systems in Africa which might be complete enough to classify as “buildings” had been constructed as tombs in ancient Egypt.
1. Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt (2667–2648 BC)
Eventually, the oldest building still standing in Africa is the original Egyptian pyramid, the Pyramid of Djoser. Its design was conceived by the engineer Imhotep, who was also a physician and architect (and amazingly enough, a commoner, later considered a god after he was deified two thousand years after his death).
The Pyramid of Djoser is a step pyramid, which can be contrasted with the smooth-sided pyramids developed later. Each step is referred to as a “mastaba,” which translates to “house of eternity.” A single mastaba can function as a tomb on its own. Stacking successively smaller mastabas one on top of the other resulted in a dramatic structure, fit for the burial of Pharaoh Djoser. This pyramid was, of course, a starting blueprint for all those that followed after.
You now know more about the oldest structures in Africa, the vast majority of which were constructed as ancient Egyptian tombs. The strides in engineering and architecture which were made by the ancient Egyptians were quite astonishing. Be sure to plan a trip to Africa one day to marvel at these ancient structures in person!
2. Pyramid of Meidum, Egypt (c. 2580 BC)
Also spelled “Maidum” or “Maydum,” the Pyramid of Meidum is located in Lower Egypt south of Cairo and is the second oldest building in Africa. Originally, it was likely constructed for the Third Dynasty pharaoh Huni, but it seems that Pharaoh Sneferu continued work on the structure.
The architect who designed the Pyramid of Meidum was the successor of Imhotep, the renowned ancient Egyptian engineer who invented the concept of the stone pyramid (see the Pyramid of Djoser below). Sadly, the structure collapsed, probably because Imhotep’s successor experimented with modifications to the original design. This accounts for its uncanny appearance today.
3. Bent Pyramid, Egypt (c. 2580 BC)
About a kilometer north of the famous Red Pyramid is another known as the Bent Pyramid, constructed by the same Pharaoh Sneferu. When you see the pyramid, the origin of the name will be obvious to you. The sides of the pyramids rise steeply from the desert sand, but near the top, the incline abruptly becomes shallow. This creates a bend in the sides.
So why is the bent pyramid bent? It is thought that, initially, the sides were meant to rise at a smooth, steep incline all the way up to the top. But during construction, builders realized that the pyramid was going to collapse if they continued the walls at the same angle, and so they switched abruptly to a shallower incline to save it. The Red Pyramid, built shortly thereafter, was constructed at a shallower angle from the start, which seems to point toward lessons learned from the Bent Pyramid mishap.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.