Rudyard Kipling was a wise man, for he wrote: “One cannot resist the lure of Africa”. These foreign yet inviting shores have captivated and dragged countless visitors for centuries to come and experience the sights and sounds of this continent. It is believed that Africa was originally called ‘Alkebulan’, meaning the garden of Eden or the mother of mankind. Yet despite their century-old origins, it is the ancient destinations in North Africa and its extraordinary symbols of a culture that continue to beckon travellers.
Wild Safari Guide highlights seven of these iconic sites that are most definitely worth exploring.
7 Ancient Destinations in North Africa
Image by Alexander Farnsowrth
1. Siwa Oasis
The Siwa Oasis is an urban oasis between the Qattara Depression and the Great Sand Sea in the Western Desert, around 560 kilometres from Cairo. It is one of Egypt’s most isolated settlements with about 33,000 people who have developed a unique and isolated desert culture and a distinct dialect called Siwi. Specific sites to visit include the Temple of the Oracle, the Temple of Amun and Fatnas Spring. An excursion to the hot spring at Bir Wahid should also be considered. Shops specialising in Siwa dates, considered to be the best in Egypt, are located around Market Square
Image by Mehmet KILIC
One of the other ancient destinations in North Africa is the Karnak Temple Complex comprising a vast mix of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings near Luxor. Construction at the complex began around 2000 –1700 BC. It is a vast open site and includes the Karnak Open Air Museum, consisting of four main parts. Karnak has been featured in a handful of Hollywood productions, including ‘The Mummy Returns’, ‘Transformers’ and ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ in the James Bond series.
Image by Unknown
3. Cave of the Swimmers
The Cave of the Swimmers is a cave with ancient rock art located in the New Valley Governorate. The cave and rock art contains Neolithic pictographs and is named due to the depictions of people with their limbs bent as if they were swimming. They are estimated to have been created as early as 10,000 years ago. Portions of the cave have however been damaged by visitors over the years, with fragments of the paintings removed as souvenirs. Steps have been taken to reduce future damage by training guides.
Image by mehdi33300
Oran is a major coastal city located in the north-west of Algeria. It is considered the second most important city of Algeria after the capital Algiers. The folk music, formulated by shepherds, had its beginnings in Oran. One of the city’s most famous emigrants is Yves Saint Laurent. The main museum in Oran is called Musée National Ahmed Zabana and includes a natural history exhibit in addition to art pieces like mosaics and portraits. Bey’s Palace is another highlight and is situated in Sidi al-Houari in the city centre. It is an Ottoman-era palace built of Islamic architecture, consisting of the harem, guard towers and stucco-painted halls.
Image by Unknown
5. Medina of Marrakech
A medina quarter is typically walled, with many narrow and maze-like streets, containing historical fountains, palaces, mosques, and sometimes churches. The medina of Marrakech is a UNESCO World Heritage site, dating back to 1070, and still features some of its original identity. Highlights include the ramparts and huge gates, the great market square and the Koutoubia Mosque, making it one of the most remarkable ancient destinations in North Africa.
Image by Michele Alfieri
6. Old Town of Djenné-Djenno
Djenné-Djenno is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Niger River Valley. It is considered to be among the oldest urbanised centres and the best-known archaeology site in sub-Saharan Africa. This archaeological site is believed to have been involved in long-distance trade and possibly the domestication of African rice. The old city is believed to have been abandoned and then moved where the current city is located due to the spread of Islam and the building of the Great Mosque of Djenné.
Image by Judy Dillon
7. El Djem
El Djem is a town in the Mahdia governorate of the country and is most famous for its amphitheatre, capable of seating 35 000 spectators. It is most certainly a spectacular ancient destination in North Africa as only the Colosseum in Rome, seating about 50 000 spectators, and the ruined theatre of Capua was larger. Until the 17th century, it remained more or less whole. From then on its stones were used for building the nearby village of El Djem and transported to the Great Mosque in Kairouan. The ruins of the amphitheatre host the annual El Djem International Symphony Festival.