Ancient African Architecture

The continent of Africa contains many different types of environments and tribal architecture was dependent upon which environment they lived in.

Ancient African villages could be in areas that were high in vegetation, had a lot of natural resources, or be in a complete desert or dry climate.
Great Pyramids of Giza

Stone is the most durable of all of the building materials, and archeologists have located stone structures that have survived throughout the years. Other materials such as wood and reeds would rot due to weather or termites.

Location Dependent:

A majority of the ancient African villages were in rural areas and had construction built of wood, clay, and grasses. Other areas had nomadic tribes that moved from one location to another as weather patterns changed and they looked for water and food.

Nomadic tribes made their homes of tents made from animal skin and were easy to set up and take down. Those tribes and villages that lived in areas with hardwoods often constructed their buildings with these woods as well as bamboo and raffia palm.
The city of Kerma

In the semi-desert areas villages could be made of clay while others had “earth-shelters” that were partially sunken into the ground.

Architecture Types:

Early settlements in Sotho and Tswana (what is now South Africa and Botswana) were stone-walled kraals. These were pit circles lined with stone and sunken pits that held the pigmy cattle.

Other structures that were found were constructed by the Tigre of Eritrea and Sudan, and included circular and rectangular farmhouses and some of these were two-storied. In the areas of Niger some of the Tuareg built stone houses that were square.

The most well-known and lasting construction of ancient Africa are in Egypt, which reaches back 2000 years. This civilization used many types of rocks and stone to create mammoth buildings including the pyramids.

Their art and craftsmanship was more advanced than many of the civilizations. The ancient Egyptians used stone for everything from monuments to glorify their pharaohs and telling stories to burial mounds.

The earliest of ancient African construction was found to be out of solid rock. Other dwellings that have been found are what are called “wattle and daub” which are woven sticks for the frame that are covered with mud.

As time passed some villages started making mudbricks which they combined with straw and mud and pressed into bricks for building. The mudbricks let the builders make larger buildings, however, they didn’t stand up to weather or wind erosion.
Great Mosque of Kairouan

One example of mudbrick construction that did remain is in modern-day Sudan. It was called the ancient city of Kerma and the site is from around 2400 BCE. It remains one of the largest archeological Nubian sites.

  • Southern Africa has the sub-Saharan environment where stone was very scarce. Tribes and villages made use of whatever was available and the types varied based on where they lived and what kind of climate they were exposed to. In some cases they used timber, but in others they used only mud bricks or grasses.
  • The sophisticated stone structures of the ruins of Great Zimbabwe include elliptical building and date back as early as the 3rdcentury CE.
  • The Great Zimbabwe had a huge defense wall as well as a conical tower and all served as a royal citadel.
  • The Great Zimbabwe was somewhat unique in both size and complexity and has become a national symbol.
  • North Africa was influenced by the interchange of many cultures that they did trade with including the Arab and Amazigh (Berger).
  • Many of the styles and craftsmanship of ancient African architecture have influenced construction of modern day Africa as well as other countries.
  • Archeologists are continuing to find out that many of the cultures of ancient Africa were more sophisticated in their knowledge of their environment and construction materials of their time than previously thought.

Ancient African Architecture


What is the most well-known ancient African architecture?


What did the nomadic tribes of ancient Africa make their dwellings from?

tents made from animal skin and were easy to set up and take down

What architecture is used as a national symbol?

The Great Zimbabwe

What are mud bricks made of?

grasses or straw and mud

Why don’t we see most of the ancient African architecture?

the structures didn’t stand up to environmental decay or termites

What two factors determined the type of structures that each ancient African area constructed?

the environment and resources available