2 minute read


AfricaWestern (european Colonial) Influences On African Architecture

It has been suggested that the relationships among the three strands of the African architectural heritage cannot be completely isolated from one another in many cases because the cultures have intermixed over time. Yet there are two clearly defined phases during which Western-inspired architectural styles were imported into Africa. The first phase began with the Roman conquest of the North African city-state of Carthage in 146 B.C.E. at the end of the Third Punic War. This conquest brought with it Roman building cultures and architectural traditions that can be found throughout most of North Africa, especially in sites such as El Djem, Tunisia, where a Roman coliseum dating to 300 C.E. can be found.

The second phase began much later, during the fifteenth century, when European explorers began to look for a sea route to the Orient. Pioneered by the Spaniards and the Portuguese, who sailed around the West African Atlantic coasts on their journey to India and the Far East, numerous trading fortresses began to dot the West African coastal landscapes as trade between Europe, Africa, and the Orient became more lucrative. These large structures also heralded the arrival of people from other European countries, such as the Belgians, Dutch, English, French, and Germans, who began to settle along the African coastal territories. Among the first and largest of the European structures was Fort Elmina, built by Diogo d'Azambuja, a Portuguese captain, in 1482, in what was then called the Gold Coast (today's Ghana). The booming trade between Africa, Europe, and the Orient expanded to the Americas as the slave trade brought from Europe new seekers of treasures in Africa.

In 1820 about five thousand English settlers moved to the Cape in southern Africa. In 1830 France invaded and occupied The Great Mosque in Djenne, Mali. Built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the mud-brick mosque at Djenne is an example of the influence of Islamic tradition upon African architecture. The Djenne mosque is the largest mud structure in the world. © ROBERT VAN DER HILST/CORBIS Algiers. In 1867 the availability of diamonds in the Griqualand West region of southern Africa was brought to the attention of the European settlers. Likewise, gold was brought to the attention of Europeans at Lydenberg, in Transvaal, in 1873. The Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 set in motion the "Scramble for Africa" in which the European powers subdivided the continent into spheres of influences. Cecil Rhodes, who would become prime minister of the Cape Colony in 1890, founded De Beers Consolidated Mines in 1888 and the British South Africa Company one year later. This synopsis of nineteenth-century colonial African history mirrors the manner in which Western architecture was spread on the continent from the turn of the nineteenth century through most of the twentieth century. Because of the manner in which the continent was settled by later European economic immigrants, it is not surprising that South Africa was the area most greatly influenced by Western architecture.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Anticolonialism in Southeast Asia - Categories And Features Of Anticolonialism to Ascorbic acidArchitecture - Africa - The "triple Heritage" Architectural Concept, The Roots Of Indigenous African Architecture, Western (european Colonial) Influences On African Architecture