The 10 must-see monuments in Africa

Les Pyramides de Gizeh

Discover the must-see monuments in Africa!

Africa is not just a land of wildlife adventures. With a history dating back to the dawn of time, it boasts an incomparable cultural heritage. Its many vestiges reflect the many civilizations that have succeeded one another over the centuries.

If – like us – you have a passion for old stones, come and discover with us the must-see monuments on the continent! This short guide will help you unlock the secrets of sites as mythical as they are fascinating. From the Egyptian pyramids to the royal palaces of Abomey in Benin, via the mud city of Djenné in Mali, you’ll awaken the Indiana Jones in you!

The pyramids of Giza in Egypt

The first wonder of the world
Que voir et faire aux Pyramides de Gizeh ?

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Yakov Oskanov

  • 👍 Distance: 25 km from downtown Cairo
  • 👍 We love: a visit inside the pyramids, the Sphinx watching over the royal tombs

Located in the Giza necropolis, these three pyramids are living witnesses to the Ancient Egyptian Empire. They were built between 2,550 and 2,490 BC as the eternal resting places of the pharaohs Khufu, Khafren and Mykerinos. The Pyramid of Cheops (or Great Pyramid) is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the World to have survived to the present day.

Towering 138 metres above the Nile Valley, the Great Pyramid is composed of 2.3 million stone blocks weighing between 2.5 and 80 tonnes! To this day, we still don’t know how these enormous rocks were cut, transported and interlocked to create this record-breaking structure.

Karnak temple, Egypt

The domain of the Egyptian gods
temple karnak

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Zbigniew Guzowski

  • 👍 Distance: 2.7 km from downtown Luxor
  • 👍 We like: the different architectural styles, the Karnak open-air museum

The Temple of Karnak is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Egypt! Its construction spans 2,000 years, from around 2,055 BC to around 100 AD. Generations of Pharaoh builders have contributed to the edifice, adding or modifying architectural elements along the way.

Karnak comprises three enclosures dedicated to the Theban triad: Amun-Ra, supreme ruler of the gods, Mut, his wife, and Khonsu, their son. The domain of Amun-Ra attracts particular attention for its sphinx-lined alley, obelisks, pylons and chapels. The hypostyle hall, studded with 134 columns over 20 metres high, is a true testament to the grandeur of the site.

The royal tombs of Meroe, Sudan

The forgotten pharaohs of Nubia
Méroé

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Hisham Karouri

  • 👍 Distance: about 200 km from Khartoum
  • 👍 We like: the (re)discovery of a fascinating but little-known civilization

Did you know that Sudan is also home to pyramids? They were built to house the tombs of the rulers of the kingdom of Kush (or Nubia), over 2,000 years ago. Flashback. Meroe was once the capital of this prosperous empire. It was so powerful that it even ruled Egypt between 760 and 656 BC, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the « Black Pharaohs« .

All that remains of their fabulous epic are these pyramids lost in the middle of the Bayouda desert. Built of red brick, they are steeper and smaller than their Egyptian cousins – between 6 and 30 meters high. Although they have been virtually pillaged over the centuries, you can still catch a glimpse of the past by contemplating the bas-reliefs and hieroglyphs that adorn the walls.

The historic city of Djenné, Mali

A timeless city in unbaked clay
djenne mali

Photo credit: Shutterstock – trevor kittelty

  • 👍 We like: the mud architecture, the weekly market, the warm welcome from the local population

Founded in 250 BC, Djenné was once a hub of the trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt and ivory. Thanks to its position on a plain watered by the Bani River, it has preserved intact memories of the past. As you wander through its maze of narrow streets, you’ll admire its clay houses, their facades adorned with decorative motifs.

The Great Mosque of Djenné is a must-see if you want to appreciate the splendor of yesteryear. Built in the 13th century and rebuilt in 1907, this jewel of Islamic architecture in sub-Saharan Africa is the largest banco building in the world! Standing 20 metres high, it features three rectangular minarets, pinnacles topped with ostrich eggs and buttresses. Its annual maintenance or « plastering » gives rise to a joyous carnival throughout the city.

The African Renaissance Monument, Dakar, Senegal

The symbol of a continent looking to the future
monument renaissance africaine

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Nick Fox

  • 👍 We love: the sculptural design, the 360° view of the coast, the rooms adorned with works of art, the authentic African lounge, the royal lounge inside the monument

Monumental! That’s what comes to mind when you see these colossal 52-metre-high statues. They take pride of place on a volcanic hill in Ouakam, a district of Dakar. Inaugurated in 2010, this construction is intended to be the emblem of an Africa on the move, despite a past as rough as the reinforced concrete base on which it stands.

Access is via a dizzying 198-step staircase. The effort will soon be rewarded with a close-up view of these copper and bronze giants. They represent a shirtless man, carrying his child with his left arm and embracing his wife with the other. They seem to be gazing at an invisible point in the distance, unless they’re just admiring the magnificent view of the peninsula and the Atlantic Ocean.

South African Independence Memorial, Pretoria

A park for peace and contemplation
memorial independance afrique du sud

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Rich T Photo

  • 👍 We love: the symbolic power, the verdant, solemn setting

Also known as Freedom Park, this 52-hectare memorial stands on Salvokop hill on the outskirts of Pretoria. It was inaugurated in 2004 to pay tribute to all those South Africans who fought for the end of apartheid and forged the rainbow nation. Its location opposite the Voortrekker Monument is no accident. This vast granite cube, which commemorates the « great trek » of the Boers, is often associated with the Baasskap – a practice of racial discrimination.

Freedom Park was designed to inspire peace and reconciliation. During your walk, you can discover the 697 m Wall of Names. This wall bears the names of the 75,000 South Africans who lost their lives in the various wars that have marked the country’s history. The site also houses an interactive museum, taking you on a 3.6-billion-year odyssey through Southern Africa.

The mosques of Fez, Morocco

Extraordinarily well-preserved thousand-year-old mosques
mosquee de fes au maroc

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Hamza Makhchoune

  • 👍 We like: the refined decoration of the mosques, the al-Quaraouiyine library

Founded in 789 A.D., Fez has been the capital of Morocco several times in its history. To this day, it retains its influence as the cultural, intellectual and spiritual epicenter of the country. This influence is due in no small part to its magnificent mosques, which tell the story of a great part of its past.

The most famous of these is the Quaraouiyine Mosque. Built in 859 BC, it is both a place of worship and a university – the oldest in the world still in operation! Its décor is breathtaking: a large marble courtyard, arches and fountains embellished with geometric motifs, walls lined with earthenware tiles, and more. Its library contains almost 30,000 volumes – including rare 9th-century manuscripts.

Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, Marrakech, Morocco

The heart of Marrakech
place jemaa el fnaa a marrakech

Photo credit: Shutterstock – illpaxphotomatic

  • 👍 We love: the lively atmosphere, the myths and traditions that surround it

If you want to discover the authentic face of Marrakech, take a stroll around the Place Jemaa el-Fnaa (or « Place of the Dead ») in the medina. It’s the meeting point for a motley crew of people of all ages and backgrounds. In fact, it welcomes over a million visitors every year!

A stroll through this court of miracles offers a unique sensory experience. Each step takes you into a whirlwind of images, colors and smells. Here and there, you’ll find musicians, snake charmers, herbalists, soothsayers, fire-eaters and more. It’s enough to make your head spin, but also to fully appreciate traditional Moroccan life.

The archaeological park of Leptis Magna, Libya

The remains of the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna
parc leptis magna

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Plamen Galabov

  • 👍 Distance: 120 km east of Tripoli
  • 👍 We like: the various well-preserved monuments, the view of the Mediterranean

Founded in the 7th century B.C. on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, Leptis Magna was once one of the Roman Empire’s most flourishing cities. It owed its opulence to the Roman emperor Septimius Severus, who undertook major works to make it rival Carthage and Alexandria.

You can still see the amphitheatre, which could seat 18,000 spectators. Other attractions include the 3rd-century Arch of Septimius Severus, decorated with relief friezes. Then there’s Hadrian’s Baths, a 2nd-century complex featuring a sauna, sports ground, massage rooms and more.

The royal city of Abomey, Benin

Encountering the ancient kings of Dahomey
palais royaux dahomey

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Homo Cosmicos

  • 👍 We love: traditional architecture, historic museums

This is where our tour of Africa’s monuments ends: in Abomey. This town in southern Benin was the capital of the kingdom of Dahomey from the 17th to the end of the 19th century. Twelve kings succeeded one another at the head of this powerful military empire. They left a legacy of prosperity in the form of twelve palaces covering an area of 40 hectares.

The royal palaces were built in clay, and feature various bas-relief sculptures depicting battles and legends. While these majestic residences are no longer inhabited, those of kings Glélé and Ghézo have been converted into a historical museum. Here you can admire weapons, jewelry and ritual objects.

There are many other must-see monuments in Africa, depending on your interests and budget. Which will you visit first?