Five monuments from across Sub-Saharan Africa have been named on the list of the New York City-based World Monuments Fund (WMF). Established in 1996, the biennial Watch draws international attention to cultural-heritage sites in need of assistance, helping to save some of the world’s most treasured places. The 2012 Watch includes 67 sites, representing 41 countries and territories; the five sites from Sub-Sahara Africa are in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana,
Madagascar and Zimbabwe.
Stephen Battle, WMF Program Director for Sub-Sahara Africa, says: “The richness of African built heritage is still largely unknown outside of Africa. Yet heritage plays a critical role in defining identity and building stable and prosperous societies, and if the continent’s historical places are allowed to disappear in the rush to develop, we will all be poorer. The 2012 Watch draws attention to the high artistic achievement of Africa’s cultural heritage, its potential to act as a catalyst for development, and the urgent need to preserve it.”
World Monuments Fund is the leading independent organization devoted to saving the world’s treasured places. For over 45 years, working in more than 90 countries, its highly skilled experts have applied proven and effective techniques to the preservation of important architectural and cultural-heritage sites
around the globe. Through partnerships with local communities, funders, and governments, WMF seeks to inspire an enduring commitment to stewardship for future generations. Headquartered in New York City, WMF has offices and affiliates worldwide.
More detailed descriptions of all 67 on the 2012 Watch sites may be found at www.wmf.org/watch.
The Sub-Saharan sites on the 2012 Watch are as follows:
Tiébélé Royal Compound, Burkina Faso
This complex of buildings, which make up the official residence of the King of Tiébélé and his court, continues to play a central role in the civic and spiritual lives of the Kassena people. First constructed in the sixteenth century, the Royal Compound includes more than 40 houses and granaries, made of earth and decorated with elaborate geometric patterns and relief sculptures, a group that represents one of the finest examples of decorated earthen architecture in West Africa. Located at the edge of Sahel region, Tiébélé is vulnerable to changing weather patterns caused by climate change. In 2007, severe flooding caused by heavy rain led to the collapse of several households in the compound. There is an urgent need to improve drainage around the site to cope with erratic weather patterns. At the same time, increased tourism is creating new challenges for balancing protection and local traditions with opportunities for development.
Akaba Idena Historic Gateway, Benin
The Akaba Idena is the monumental gateway to the historic Yoruba city-state of Kétou, in modern-day Benin. Founded in the fourteenth century, Kétou was first fortified at the end of the eighteenth century, when massive earth ramparts surrounded by a moat were constructed, with Akaba Idena as the single entrance. Once the dominant political and military power in the region, the Yoruba had a rich and sophisticated artistic tradition, and also built large fortified city-states at places such as Ife, Kano, and modern-day Benin City, in Nigeria.
Today, little remains of these traditional cities, as their fortifications and elaborate earthen architecture have been swept away by rapid urbanization. The Akaba Idena, with its decorated columns and relief sculptures, is one of few remaining historic gateways in West Africa. Poorly protected, the site suffers from flooding and neglect, and there is an urgent need to improve stewardship, invest in drainage, and raise awareness of its historic significance.
Ashanti Shrines, Ghana
Once one of the most powerful and wealthy states in Africa, the Ashanti kingdom played a pivotal role in a turbulent period of the continent’s history in the nineteenth century, and was the source of great artistic and cultural achievement. The Ashanti Shrines are the last remnants of the kingdom’s extensive and
sophisticated building tradition. The 10 remaining Ashanti Shrines, originating in traditions dating back to at least the eighteenth century, are made of earth and thatch, and are decorated with intricate patterns in relief. Located far from modern centers of settlement, the Shrines fell into disuse in the mid-twentieth
century, and have been sidelined and neglected in the rush to build a modern nation-state. The sites are now severely threatened. There is an urgent need for improved stewardship, including a plan to preserve them and make them relevant again to the local population, perhaps through adaptation to modern tourism.
Royal Hill of Ambohimanga, Madagascar
One of the most significant historic places in Madagascar, the Royal Hill of Ambohimanga was once the seat of secular and spiritual authority in the country, and is still considered the embodiment of Malagasy cultural identity. Over the course of its history it has functioned as a fortress, palace, royal burial ground, center of religious observance, and seat of justice. The site was first occupied in the fifteenth century, and the stone fortifications and palace were built in
the nineteenth century. A sacred forest, containing many rare endemic species of rainforest plants, forms an integral part of the complex. Although the Royal Hill was once well-maintained and a major tourist attraction, the political and economic turmoil that has convulsed Madagascar in recent years has led to a collapse in revenue, and Ambohimanga is now threatened by decay and urban encroachment into the sacred forest. There is an urgent need to raise local and international awareness of its plight, improve stewardship and invest in repairs.
Nalatale Ruins, Zimbabwe
The last capital of the Torwa dynasty, which arose out of the collapse of Great Zimbabwe in the seventeenth century, Nalatale is one of the most important historic places in present-day Zimbabwe. Part of the Great Zimbabwe building tradition, which pushed the art of dry-stone walling to new heights creating elaborate forms and patterns in stone, it is one of only a few surviving examples of this style of African architecture.
Economic difficulties in the country, together with a reduction in visitor numbers, has meant that resources allocated to maintenance and protection have been
drastically reduced. The site now suffers from serious physical degradation, with subsidence of foundations and collapse of sections of dry- stone walling. Urgent physical intervention is required to stabilise the site and enable improved stewardship.