African Cities and Towns before the European Conquest

African Cities and Towns before the European Conquest

African Cities and Towns before the European Conquest

African Cities and Towns before the European Conquest

Synopsis

This richly illustrated book traces the precolonial development of African towns, cities, and architecture south of the Sahara. At once it dispels the stereotypical view of Africans living in simple, primitive, look-alike agglomerations, scattered about without any appreciation for planning and design.

Excerpt

This book explores urban Africa south of the Sahara during the thousand or so years before the era of European colonialism. Until recently, the subject received scant attention from serious scholars. Only occasional references were made in specialized professional journals on the subject of the origins, architecture, and culture of Africa's towns and cities before the European conquest. Not a single comprehensive work on precolonial urban Africa has been published since Basil Davidson's The Lost Cities of Africa appeared in 1959. This pioneering study was the first of its kind. Yet for centuries merchants, missionaries, diplomats, and scientists the world over have been fascinated by the beauty and excitement of Africa's urban scene. Scores of books contain their firsthand observations, though lamentably most of these books have been collecting dust on library shelves. Some required translation from Arabic, others were written in a style that would bring ennui to the casual contemporary reader.

In the sixteen years since Davidson's work, a number of major studies have appeared on specific areas, but they are not easily obtainable for students and interested laymen. Moreover, most of them are highly specialized monographs by architects, archeologists, art historians, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and historians. Sorely lacking, however, is a synthesis of their varied research and the diverse eyewitness reports of visitors to Africa's towns and cities before the onslaught of colonialism and industrialization.

This book attempts, in a concise way, to achieve that essential synthesis. It is comprehensive and multidisciplinary in that it explores, analyzes, and compares major urban centers of the sahel, savannas, forests, and coasts at different points in history and in kaleidoscopic fashion. Urban government, economy, society, archi-

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