African Cultural Landscapes On UNESCO’s World Heritage List

African cultural landscapes are sites which reflect African land-use techniques that sustain biological diversity. Some of these sites are also associated with African spiritual, traditional beliefs and customs. Just like other continents’ landscapes, these sites have been inscribed on the World Heritage List by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). They are also protected through the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage for generations to come. Typically, sites like these have exceptional universal values that exceed national boundaries and as such are preserved to prevent exposure to disaster or risk. Read more on the African cultural landscapes selected by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape – South Africa

The Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical landscape is a mountainous semi-desert owned by the Name community. The heritage site sustains the semi-nomadic livelihood of the Nama people, who seasonally move about with their livestock to find suitable grazing places. One uniqueness of this African cultural landscape is its ability to support a variety of plants and animals, despite its harsh weather condition. Over 6,350 vascular plant species exist in the Richtersveld, making it the only Arid Biodiversity Hotspot on Earth. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2007.

Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove – Nigeria

Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove covers 75 hectares of the tropical high forest in southern Nigerian. It is a groove with 40 shrines, sculptures and arts dedicated to the worship of the Yoruba goddess of fertility name “Yeye Osun. The goddess, who is believed to live in the river within the groove, is said to make public appearances in the form of fishes, during its yearly festival. The groove has 9 points of worship, with assigned priest and priestess to attend to worshipers’ needs. It was inscribed into the World Heritage List in 2005.

Sukur Cultural Landscape – Nigeria

Sukur is a hilltop village along Nigeria/Cameroon border, Madagali local government area of Adamawa state of Nigeria. Sukur is an ancient abode with once flourished iron smelting technology, industry, trade, and resilient political organization. Dry stone structures and stone-paved walkways characterize the landscape.  It was inscribed in World Heritage List in 1999.

Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests – Kenya

The Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests comprise ten different sites/forests regarded as the abode of ancestors. The forests are representative of about 30 sacred forests in the area.  These forests were once the villages of the Mijikenda people, who migrated to the city from Somalia in the 16th century and found refuge in these coastal forests. The villages were later abandoned, and they became sources of spiritual beliefs and places of ritual. The forests got on the World Heritage List in 2008.

Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape – South Africa

Mapungubwe cultural landscape is located in South Africa, close to Zimbabwe and Botswana borders. Evidence and record show that it was perhaps the most magnificent Kingdom in southern Africa. It traded in gold and ivory via the Swahili trading ports of eastern Africa. Painstaking archaeological work has revealed the remains of three palaces, indicating the existence of a complex social structure, large quantities of clay figures, and evidence of iron and copper working. It got inscribed in the World Heritage List on 2003

Aloum Delta – Senegal

The Saloum Delta is located in southern Senegalese capital, Dakar. It is an area that comprises mudflats, mangrove swamp, channels, and about 200 small islands, most of which have become forests. Archaeological evidence shows 218 human-made mounds, some of which have been found to include burial tumuli containing some significant artefacts. The existence of tumuli on some of the shell mounds is proof to the ancient and enduring nature of human culture, in association with a specific natural environment. It got engraved in World Heritage List in 2011.

The Koutammakou Cultural Landscape – Togo

The Koutammakou cultural landscape was designated in 2004 as a World Heritage Site Koutammakou, also known as Tamberma Valley, has a distinctive collection of fortress-like ‘mud tower’ houses. Most of the mud houses are two-storey, some having flat earthen tops while others have cone-shaped grass thatch roofs.

Matobo Hills – Zimbabwe

Matobo hills feature a large number of distinctive rock landforms, higher than the granite shield that covers much of Zimbabwe. They are located in Bulawayo, the southern part of Zimbabwe. Caves and crevices carved out of these rocks became dwelling places to Zimbabwe’s earliest residents, the “San”.  Many years later, artists began painting on the walls of caves and rock shelters, using unique materials that have survived the test of climate and time.

Old Towns of Djenne – Mali

The old towns of Djenne are the four smaller towns at Djenne-Djeno, Hambarketolo, Tonomba, and Kaniana, located in the middle reach of the inland delta of the Niger River in central Mali. These towns contain about 2,000 pre-Islamic river-mud houses that have been inhabited since 250 B.C. The most iconic Djenne’s building is the Grand Mosque, the biggest mud-built structure in the world. It was reconstructed in 1907 on the site of its original structure. The old towns of Djenne were inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1988

Cliff of Banadiagara (Land of the Dogons) – Mali

The cliff of Bandiagara is located in a remote part of rural Mali, about 80 km east of Mopti. It is a sandstone cliff of 500 meters high. It stretches for about 150 km with a high plateau above and sandy semi-desert plains beneath. Although the cliff has been settled before the Dogon arrival, the Dogon people migrated there with their traditional religion and animist beliefs. They have also used the natural shelter of the cliffs to help maintain their cultural identity. UNESCO inscribed this site in 1989.

Since the announcement of these African cultural landscapes as World Heritage Sites, they have become tourist attraction destinations to different categories of tourists.  A visit to some of these sites before the end of summer wouldn’t be a bad idea.


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