Africa draws many travelers for its safari expeditions and stunning desert landscapes, but the continent also hosts some extraordinary historic sites ranging from the remains of a legendary empire to a historic castle that once functioned as part of a slave trade route. These are the top historic places in Africa.
Unexciting places will never fail to captivate, so here are 10 of the best historic spots that await discovery.
Timbuktu, Mali was an epicenter for West African trade and culture during the 1500s, as traders traversed from Sudanese deserts to Guinea’s tropical forests for trade; scholars studied Islamic law and religion at schools like Sankore Mosque.
Cairo also enjoyed two resources that other cities sought: rock salt and gold. According to travel writer Leo Africanus’ 14th-century account, when Malian emperor Mansa Musa visited Cairo during his pilgrimage journey to Mecca in 1324 with an entourage laden with so much gold that its price plummeted for months afterward.
Timbuktu became a symbol of Africa due to its rich legacy of scholarship and progressive ideas, as well as its legend. Now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, it continues to represent tolerance, wisdom, and innovation–ideals that were badly needed during periods of rising sectarianism and intolerance in Sahel and MENA regions.
2. Pyramids of Meroe
Meroe pyramids serve as a reminder of the Kingdom of Kush in Sudan. This ancient civilization had strong links and rivalries with Egypt; for a short time period, its rulers (known as Black Pharaohs) even controlled part of their empire.
Meroe, a UNESCO World Heritage Site four hours northeast of Khartoum, features a cluster of pyramids used as royal burial sites and distinguished from Giza’s monumental structures by having small bases and steep slopes; an indication of how Kush peoples were heavily influenced by ancient Egypt while maintaining their own identity and cultural forms.
Meroe is an idyllic spot to lose yourself in and one of the top historic places in Africa, basking in its ambiance and contemplating history’s great civilizations. A popular day trip destination from Delhi, Meroe offers luxury tents or thatched stone bungalows at ITC Meroe Camp that offer breathtaking views. Temperatures during October-April make Meroe the ideal time for a visit.
3. James Island
James Island is a historic sea island that has played an essential part in American history. As one of the first free African American communities established in the South and designated a national monument by President Obama in 2013, it features sites related to Tubman’s Underground Railroad activities such as Jacob Jackson’s House, Bezel Church, and Stewart Canal.
McLeod Plantation Historic Site on James Island’s southern tip offers visitors an insider view into antebellum plantation life, with interpretive tours that explore sea island cotton cultivation, Gullah/Geechee heritage, and organized resistance against slavery.
The District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa serves as a reminder of its divided past during apartheid, while Rorke’s Drift battlefield in South Africa was most famously the scene of fierce fighting between 139 British soldiers and 45,000 Zulu warriors during the Anglo-Zulu Wars. Nelson Mandela Museum at Bhunga Building chronicles the former South African president’s fight for democracy and an end to apartheid.
Saint-Louis is known as the gateway to Western exploration and home of blues music, housing many historic buildings as well as offering an intriguing blend of midwestern and southern culture.
At one time, this city was an important trading center, offering goods from throughout North and Central Africa at its markets. Today its impressive ruins still stand as a testament to this rich past; additionally, it houses an amazing collection of Islamic art.
King Louis IX of France was the sole sainted French monarch, and many places are named in his honor. A passionate believer, Louis approached his duties as a monarch with his faith at heart – championing poor causes while founding hospitals, fasting, listening to sermons, attending two masses a day, and surrounding himself with priests were just some examples of how deeply religious this ruler was.
In the late 19th century, this area experienced an explosion of industrial production. It became home to major steel and automobile factories such as Anheuser-Busch Brewery and Ralston-Purina company; furthermore, it was popularly visited by immigrants such as Irish and Germans; furthermore, it experienced waves of African American migration during The Great Migration.
Goree Island stands as a stark reminder of one of humanity’s great tragedies, one of the best historic places in Africa: from the 15th to the 19th century it served as Africa’s primary slave-trading hub under successive Portuguese, Dutch, and French control.
Goree Island was an important hub, trading not only people but also hides, beeswax, and grain. Its population fluctuated between several hundred free Africans and Creoles as well as over 1,500 enslaved Africans during its heyday between the 18th and 19th century enslaved Africans and slave traders (known as Signares) who owned land, ships, and slave trade operations in Goree. Ultimately Goree fell under Franco-African merchant control known as Signares who owned land as well as control of its slave trade operation on Goree.
Goree Island hosts a museum containing an eye-opening doorframe from what became known as the Door of No Return – through which many African slaves were forcibly forced onto boats bound for the Americas. It stands as a powerful reminder of Africa and its diaspora’s tragic history, serving as an altar to reconciliation and forgiveness between African communities worldwide. Goree is now used as a pilgrimage site by diaspora Africans living abroad while serving as a forum for intercultural dialogue through reconciliation and forgiveness initiatives.