NewsNorth AfricaArchaeologists seek to promote tourism in Africa's old Islamic sites

Sat,16Dec2017

Posted on Tuesday, 16 May 2017 16:31

Archaeologists seek to promote tourism in Africa's old Islamic sites

By Reuters

A woman tends to the family's sheep in their  home next to Djingareyber Mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage site, in Timbuktu, Mali. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP/SIPAA group of archaeological experts met in Bahrain to discuss how to use their research on Africa's archaeology to help promote the continent's old Islamic sites.

 

The Islamic Archaeology in Global Perspective Conference, held in capital Manama, hoped to highlight the important role that archaeology has to play in large parts of Africa.

One such site is in Volubilis, Morocco - an important 3rd century BC outpost of the Roman Empire.

It is said to be one of the richest such sites in North Africa today, indicating the existence of several civilizations from a Christian era to the Islamic period.

"In Morocco for example, we have at the site of Volubilis, a famous site, a UNESCO site, wonderful evidence of the transformation of diet, the transformation of burial practices, for the use of new types of dishes, cooking practices that all come in the 8th century. So this would suggest that in that area at least a very early spread of Islam. Now that is not the case everywhere in North Africa.," said Dr Corsiande Fenwick, a lecturer in Mediterranean archaeology.

While Egypt has led the boom in archaeological tourism, the hope is that many parts of sub-Saharan Africa with Islamic heritage can also meet their tourism potential.

In Mali, the towering Great Mosque of Djenne, which was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, is a major attraction.

The mud brick building is considered by many architects to be one of the greatest Sudano-Sahelian achievements.

It was built by people in the Sahel and Sudan region during the expansion of Islam in the 14th century.

The old Town of Djenné includes four archaeological sites with nearly 2,000 houses whose decorative facades have remained intact since the 3rd century B.C.

The buildings are among the most famous in Mali, a country that also boasts the ancient town of Timbuktu.

Timbuktu, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, is famous for its manuscripts dating back to the 13th century, and also known for its historic architecture.

But archaeologists worry that, if special steps are not taken to preserve sites, the continent could lose important parts of its history.

Benjamin Kankpeyeng, a professor of archaeology at the University of Ghana, said there are still many more historic architectural sites on the continent that are yet to get the attention they deserve.

Meeting tourism potential

"We also have a Djenne style mosque at Wiyanga in the upper East region. That is also classic dealing with the connections between people of northern Ghana and the Sahel region as well as linking to North Africa," he said.

Across the continent along the East African coastline, Stone Town, the old part of Zanzibar's main city was a major trading point between Asia and Africa for centuries.

Famed for its historic buildings and white-sandy beaches, Zanzibar attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

But some scholars argue that old stone towns have shadowed many other interesting aspects of the coast and tourists often overlook earlier Islamic settlements and civilizations.

"Most of the heritage tourism today is focused on particular stone towns, but because it is only particular stone towns dated to a particular period, it leaves other sites out in the cold. It leaves smaller local villages without access to this kind of heritage tourism," said Tom Fitton, an archaeologist specializing on the East African Coast.

Many of Africa's archaeological treasures are yet to meet their tourism potential.

But by starting a special drive to promote Islamic heritage in Africa, experts hope to now contribute towards drawing more visitors to the continent



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