SAH Blog

  • The Medieval City and the Pilgrimage City: Gondar and Lalibela

    By
    Brooks Travelling Fellow Amber N. Wiley
     |
    Jan 5, 2015

    Gondar “The African Camelot”

    I looked at the date on Fasilides Castle—1667—and thought to myself “Wow, this is incredible! If only I had known… I would have taught my history class in a completely different way.” The date was important for two versions of a class I taught. The first version was entitled “History of Architecture: Renaissance and Baroque.” The second version was ambiguously titled “History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism II.” In both versions of the course the historical trajectory had found its way to England via Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren by 1666. We spent a little bit of one class period on the urban fabric of London prior to and after the Great Fire of 1666. We were completely immersed in arguing about rational plans versus organic growth versus a combination of the two, or even something completely different for London. And here — here in Ethiopia, just one year after the fire, grand palaces were built at the onset of the Gondarine period. I was shocked at how little I knew about this time in African history, and was intrigued by the date as a way to connect with the Western history that I had taught and with which I was most familiar.

    Gondar was an old imperial capital in northern Ethiopia. Emperor Fasilides ruled from 1632 to 1667, and this was the time frame posted near the entrance to his castle. The building was the first constructed in the Fasil Ghebbi compound. The complex hosted several castles erected by a succession of emperors, as well as one building on the far north side erected by a queen, Mentewab.

    Figure-1
    Figure 1. Library of Yohannes I in the foreground, Chancellery of Yohannes I in the background. Fasil Ghebbi complex. The Italians did reconstructive work on the library between 1938–1939.

    The Fasil Ghebbi complex was breathtakingly beautiful. The shapes, outlines, and details of the palaces were so unique that I regretted not teaching about them before (then, how could I, since I did not know them before?). The three most impressive buildings in the complex were Fasilides Castle, Library of Yohannes I, and the Palace of Mentewab. These were also three of the best preserved. It was hard for me to determine what parts were reconstructed and which were simply conserved. These points are hard to extract from a tour guide, although some can be determined through published articles. Various portions of the complex fell victim to time and natural weathering, others to an earthquake of 1704, and also to damages sustained during World War II.

    Figure-2
    Figure 2. Mentewab Palace in the Fasil Ghebbi complex.

    The exterior detailing of Mentewab’s palace set it apart from the other buildings in the complex. The windows and doors were accentuated red tufa details, including carvings that depicted various cross designs attributed to different regions in Ethiopia. This, of course, was a sign of unity and of holiness. These same details can be found in her banqueting hall at the Mentewab-Qwesqwam Palace, a later complex she constructed outside the Fasil Ghebbi compound.

    A mid-1570s castle erected by Emperor Sarsa Dengel closer to Lake Tana influenced these buildings. That castle, Guzara, was the first of the kind that would be described as “Gondarine style” by scholars of Ethiopian art and architecture. The plan of Guzara castle is square with four circular bastions at each corner. Egg-shaped roofs top these bastions, a feature that was repeated in the palace complex of Fasil Ghebbi. Architectural antecedents of the stone and mortar Guzara Castle do not exist in Ethiopia, and various scholars have posited that Sarsa Dengel employed or was inspired by the work of Ottoman Turks.

    Guzara Castle is little more than a picturesque ruin that sits atop a hill outside a small city. There is no major tourism there — the day I visited I was the only foreigner in sight. Slender, young farm boys followed me through the ruin, asking for pens and money. There was no interpretation at the site, and my Gondarine guide was not extremely knowledgeable about the specifics of the construction. I was extremely surprised to find that Guzara was considered contributing to the UNESCO World Heritage listing of Fasil Ghebbi given its remote location and lack of infrastructure and inclusion within the tourism circuit promoted in Gondar.1 What Guzara provided, more than any major illumination on the evolution of the “Gondarine-style” architecture, was a challenging trek and workout.

    Figure-3
    Figure 3. Former Italian Cinema on main avenue linking Fasil Ghebbi to the post office.

    My main reason for visiting Gondar was actually to see and understand the Italian presence in the city. I was introduced to Gondar through David Rifkind’s 2011 article “Gondar,” published in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Every week a different student in my “Architecture, Culture, and Society” class at Tulane presented the hypothesis of an article related to our weekly themes. One theme was “Empire.”  The assigned readings for the week were two chapters from David Brody’s Visualizing American Empire: Orientalism and Imperialism in the Philippines. I presented the etymological roots of words like “Empire,” “Imperialism,” “Culture,” and “Civilization,” found in Raymond Williams’ Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, and illuminated Edward Said’s theories on Orientalism and the process of “othering.” A very engaged student found Rifkind’s article and presented the thesis, tying it to the discussion we had about the relationship between architecture, urban planning, and empire. I remembered her presentation and the article when I was planning this trip, and knew I had to head to Gondar.

    Figure-4
    Figure 4. Villa in the Italian section of Gondar.

    The Italian presence in the city, beyond the walls of the Fasil Ghebbi, is still very evident, as Rifkind describes. The monumental post office, connected to the Fasil Ghebbi complex by a major avenue, the villas, commercial, and administrative buildings to the north are all quite conspicuous. What is missing is any kind of preservation or interpretation of these sites. Given their inclusion in a controversial point in Ethiopian history I wondered why they had not been demolished, and whether local residents felt some sort of antipathy towards their existence. None of the town residents I spoke to had any strong negative feelings towards the Italian buildings in Gondar. In fact, the Italian presence in Gondar was considered inconsequential to many residents, as I was reminded time and again that the Italians never conquered or colonized Ethiopia.2

    On Faith and Pedagogy

    In order to teach a world history of architecture course, one should be prepped with the world history of faith systems and religion. As humans evolved and mastered the basics of sustenance—hunting and gathering, constructing shelter, farming, domesticating animals—man was searching for the meaning of his existence. Monolithic arrangements were constructed to mark death, the moment when man stopped roaming the earth and stayed in one place. The need to situate ourselves in the world and to remember those who were once in existence gave us some of our earliest architecture. Agrarian societies dependent on the changing seasons, the sun, and rain for good harvests began sacred rituals around those things. That is why the granary shape is an important formal typology in Japanese Shinto religion and various African religions as well. Man’s need to mark cycles of life and cycles of nature on earth and in the sky led to the creation of complex structures, the most famous being Stonehenge. The Egyptians believed in the divinity of Pharaoh, and the erection of pyramids strengthened that ideological relationship. Greeks crated temples for the man-like gods. Aztecs created sacrificial temples dedicated to their gods. Christians erected churches to worship their God. It goes on and on.

    I split most of my time in the 16th–18th century portions of my “Renaissance and Baroque/History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism II” course discussing divergent design trends in the Catholic and Protestant churches. Not once did I cover the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christianity is a unifying force in most of Ethiopia. In class I talked about Renaissance theories like those of Alberti or the drawings of Da Vinci that focused on the centralized church plans and discussed the fact that the liturgy of the Catholic Church did not support this idealized space. However, Ethiopia has countless centralized churches in addition to basilica plan churches because their liturgy allows for the reconfiguration of space as needed, as long as it abides by one major schematic principal, illustrated below.

    Figure-5
    Figure 5. Schematic from Niall Finneran, “Built by Angels? Towards a Buildings Archaeology Context for the Rock-hewn Medieval Churches of Ethiopia,” World Archaeology 41 no. 3 (2009): 424.

    Figure-6
    Figure 6. Elfin Giyorgis, one of several churches in the Fasil Ghebbi complex.

    Greece is the only other country I have visited where Orthodox Christianity was dominant, and they also have many central plan churches. But even the Greek Orthodox Church has significant differences from the orthodoxy practiced in Ethiopia. I have found a number of religious-cultural practices in Ethiopia to be particularly fascinating as an outside observer. One could easily mistake/conflate/confuse the conservative practices of Christianity in Ethiopia with those of Islam. For instance, taking off shoes when entering into a holy space, and the women covering their heads. There is also a significant amount of circumambulation and prostration that happens both outside and inside the spaces themselves.

    Doing the research here in Ethiopia on Orthodox Christianity was dizzying. Eastern, Oriental, Ethiopian, Greek, Slavic… whew. As archaeologist Niall Finneran reminds us “The Ethiopian Church was tied politically to the Coptic Church and Alexandria and also too, it should not be forgotten, to the west Syrian church as well as the Byzantine world.”3 The ties between these religious practices are very much reinforced by old trade routes that have existed for centuries between some of these ancient cultures and modern day countries.

    “A Necessary but Temporary Evil”

    The first things that one sees when approaching the primary cluster of rock-hewn churches at Lalibela are the large white shelters looming above the internationally famous structures. Let’s just say, the vantage points and pictorial views that are in your textbook are a lie. Except the photographs of Biet Giyorgis (coincidentally it is the most circulated image). UNESCO erected these protective structures in 2008 in a joint project with the European Union, who supplied funds for the construction. UNESCO is upfront in its integrity statement about issues surrounding these structures: “Temporary light-weight shelters have now been installed over some churches and these, while offering protection, impact on visual integrity.”4 Anastase Zacharas, administrator at the European Commission involved with the project called the buildings a “necessary but temporary evil.”5

    Figure-7
    Figure 7. View from outside the second cluster of churches. Lalibela church Biet Abba Libanos with protective shelter. Teprin Associati of Italy designed the temporary structures. This is a modified version from their original commission-winning proposal, which was less visually obtrusive. Façade of Biet Abba Libanos shows cracks on left and center, the right portion of the wall has been replaced. One can see more utilitarian shelter for Biet Lehem in the background.

    The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela faced significant challenges in the twentieth century, including man-made damage. The churches are cut from living rock, and as such have to respond to the shifting of the earth’s surface over the centuries. This led to fracturing and destabilization of the buildings themselves. There is also micro vegetation that has grown in the countless edifice cracks. As Jacek Rewerski, specialist on troglodytes, states “Conserving a cave [building] is a totally different activity from conserving a building made of ‘dead’ stone removed from its environment. A cave building lives, changes and ages with the earth of which it is a part.”6

    In the mid-1950s Italian Sebastiano Console undertook conservation efforts for the churches, adding a “protective” coat of tar to the buildings and covering it with red paint. He also covered the roofs with cement and metal to shield the buildings from water damage that was especially harsh during the rainy season. The rock could not breathe under tar and paint coating, resulting in additional cracking of the structures. In 1966 a joint project between UNESCO, the Ethiopian government and the International Fund for Monuments (later the World Monuments Fund) helped reverse the damaging restorations that were undertaken in the previous decade. The rock-hewn churches at Lalibela would become the first landmark project of the World Monuments Fund.7

    Despite the early attention from the World Monuments Fund, conservation at the site lagged due to the overthrow of Haile Selassie and the rise of the Derg political party. The World Monuments Fund was unable to complete the later phases of its project in the 1970s. International coalitions were not invited to work on the site again until the 1990s. The need for immediate, yet delicate and conservative approaches to preservation work at the site is evident. The UNESCO statement of integrity about the site is telling:

    Structural problems have been identified in Biet Amanuel where an imminent risk of collapse is possible, and other locations need to be monitored. Serious degradation of the paintings inside the churches has occurred over the last thirty years. Sculptures and bas-reliefs (such as at the entrance of Biet Mariam) have also been severely damaged, and their original features are hardly recognisable. All of this threatens the integrity of the property.8

    There are holes in the ground around buildings where previous shelters had been erected. A small section of the Biet Medhane Alem church still bares evidence of the fateful tar and red paint restoration of the 1950s.

    Figure-8
    Figure 8. This image of Biet Medhane Alem illustrates various conservation techniques undertaken at Lalibela over the course of the last sixty years. Original pillars have been replaced. The last vestiges of the tar and red paint are an illustrative reminder of previous harsh alterations to the building. To the right are the posts that hold the canopy of the newest additions—the UNESCO protective shelters.

    Replacement pillars and walls for portions of the buildings that have already failed are conspicuously reconstructed to illustrate the fact that they are not original. In many ways, the work undertaken at this extremely holy pilgrimage site is a case study of best and worst practices for future preservation and conservation students and professionals. Increased tourism is both beneficial and detrimental to the conservation of the site. On the one hand increased tourism means increased tourism dollars being spent in the small town. On the other hand, the churches already receive a significant amount of internal pilgrims from Ethiopia, and the added human presence of foreign tourists can wear down the natural materials of the buildings at an exponential rate.

    Wanderlust: Nomadic Interpretations of Contemporary Africa

    "Have just returned from Ethiopia with a mass of welts from the bed bugs of Seven Olives Hotel in Lalibela,” Colonel Gray wrote in a letter to Richard Howland of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. – one of the [World Monuments Fund] early trustees, "but with the satisfaction of turning over to the Antiquities Administration the completed monument. God preserve me from faraway places."
    - World Monuments Fund: The First Thirty Years

    I guffawed when I read that line. I could relate.9 As I told my father and two younger brothers over Skype on Christmas “It’s nothing like the movies!” My brother Roland asked, “What do you mean, how so?” I replied, “The bed bugs, fleas, mosquitos… wearing the same clothes for days on end… sometimes no hot water, sometimes no electricity.” My dad replied, “So you mean, when Indiana Jones emerges from a cave with a crisp white shirt, it’s not real?” We all laughed. It has been quite the challenge trying to be Indyamber Jones while in Ethiopia. The country’s infrastructure leaves much to be desired, though there are crews working every day to expand roads and make the smaller cities and sites I have visited more accessible.10 The reward, however, is experiencing architectural sites and preservation practices that are so far removed from what I have previously known. Another reward is the opportunity to capture these sites through my photography and share them with the world.

    I am very pleased to announce the inclusion of my photography in an exhibition in the United States while I continue to travel on this fellowship. Several of my works from Ghana and Ethiopia will be a part of the exhibition “Wanderlust: Nomadic Interpretations of Contemporary Africa” at The Project Box, a creative arts space in the Paseo Arts District of Oklahoma City. The show runs from January 2–30, 2015.

    Figure-9
    Figure 9. Wanderlust at the Project Box, Oklahoma City, OK.

    Wanderlust: Nomadic Interpretations of Contemporary Africa” is a group art show highlighting the diversity of Africa through eyes in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Somaliland/Somalia and the United States of America. Curated by Afrikanation Artists Organization (AAO), Wanderlust features work by Oklahoma City-based artists Ebony Iman DallasGay PasleyRonna Pernell, Alex Mutua Kathilu, as well as Zena Allen, the Afrikanation International Art Exchange participants, and myself. Jeff Mims, an Oklahoma City-based Afrikanation musician, will play acoustic guitar during the opening reception, which coincides with the First Friday Gallery Walk in the Paseo Arts District.11

    In addition, Afrikanation Artists Organization USA will be collecting much needed youth art supplies to send to Voices for Street Children/Little Voices orphanage in Addis Ababa and professional art supplies to artists in Somaliland/Somalia. My travel to faraway places has allowed me to participate in an international artist community that is particularly rewarding and meaningful.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Reading:

    Sandro Angelini, “Lalibela – Phase I: Adventure in Restoration,” (New York: International Fund for Monuments, Inc., 1967)

    Merid Wolde Aregay, “Society and Technology in Ethiopia 1500-1800,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 17 (November 1984): 127-147

    LaVerle Berry, “Architecture and Kingship: The Significance of Gondar-Style Architecture,” Northeast African Studies 2 no. 3 (1995): 7-19

    Stanislaw Chojnacki, “New Aspects of India’s Influence on the Art and Culture of Ethiopia,” Rassegna di Studi Etiopici 2 (2003): 5-21

    Niall Finneran, “Built by Angels? Towards a Buildings Archaeology Context for the Rock-hewn Medieval Churches of Ethiopia,” World Archaeology 41 no. 3 (2009): 415-429

    Niall Finneran, “Lalibela in its Landscape: Archaeological Survey at Lalibela, Lasta, Ethiopia, April to May 2009,” Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 47 no. 1 (2012): 81-98

    S. C. Munro-Hay, “Horse-Shoe Arches in Ancient Ethiopia,” Rassegna di Studi Etiopici 33 (1989): 157-161

    David W. Phillipson, “From Yeha to Lalibela: an Essay in Cultural Continuity,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 40 no. 1/2 (June-December 2007): 1-19

    Jacek Rewerski, “Life Below Ground,” UNESCO Courier 48 no. 12 (December 1995): 10-14

    David Rifkind, “Gondar,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 70 no. 4 (December 2011): 492-511

    Matteo Salvadore, “Muslim Partners, Catholic Foes: The Selective Isolation of Gondärine Ethiopia,” Northeast African Studies 12 no. 1 (2012): 51-72

    Tomohiro Shitara, “A Study of the Methods and Materials Used in the Construction of Italian Buildings in Gondar,” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 5 no. 2 (November 2006): 215-220

    Bahru Zewde, “Gondär In the Early Twentieth Century: A Preliminary Investigation of a 1930/31 Census,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 21 (November 1988): 57-81



     

    1. UNESCO has plans to address these types of issues at the Continental Conference on UNESCO Sites in Africa foreseen in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, in November 2015: http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1136/

    2. The characterization of Italy’s presence in Ethiopia is also highly debated by the scholarly community, as was examined in my previous blog on Addis Ababa.

    3. Niall Finneran, “Built by Angels? Towards a Buildings Archaeology Context for the Rock-hewn Medieval Churches of Ethiopia,” World Archaeology 41 no. 3 (2009): 424

    4. UNESCO, “Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region” http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/19

    5. Sophie Boukhari, "Lalibela's Fragile Churches." UNESCO Courier (July /August 1998): 71

    6. Jacek Rewerski, “Life Below Ground,” UNESCO Courier 48 no. 12 (December 1995): 10-14. The churches at Lalibela fall under the purview of the mission of two separate but important specialist initiatives in conservation. The first is Histoire Architecture Découverte Etude Sauvegarde (H.A.D.E.S.) and the second is the World Heritage Programme on Earthen Architecture (WHEAP).

    7. The World Monuments Fund has expanded its operations in Northern Ethiopia. Work continues at Lalibela, funding for conservation at the Mentewab-Qwesqwam Palace, and Yemrehana Kristos is included on the 2014 Watch List.

    8. UNESCO, “Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region” http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/19

    9. I did not stay at the Seven Olives Hotel and cannot speak on their current situation. Colonel Gray’s letter was written in the early 1970s.

    10. The funding and the managerial workforce for these many of these projects come from China.

    11. This information was taken directly from the Wanderlust Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1571301193100544/.
    Go comment!
  • The New Flower: Addis Ababa and the Project of African Modernity

    By
    2013 Brooks Fellow Amber N. Wiley
     |
    Dec 4, 2014

    He is a young man.
    He is a young man
    by a steel track.
    He wants the streets
    to be more than streets.
    The Italian boulevard
    the Italians built
    to be more
    than a boulevard.

    The city more
    than a city.
    He has high,
    admirable ideals.
    It is a dangerous world.
    The emperor
    is such a powerful
    man. The Derg
    and the military
    the most violent
    letdown.

    Excerpt from “The Track,” Lena Bezawork Grönlund Callaloo 33, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 295-296

    Addis Ababa, or “New Flower” in Amharic, was founded in 1886. During early imperial times the capital had been located in Axum, Lalibela, and Gondar, as well as several other smaller cities. In modern times, the capital was built anew. Empress Taytu Betul, wife of Emperor Menelik II, first settled in the Entoto hills. This settlement was “little more than a military encampment.”1 She later moved to a valley in the foothills, attracted by natural hot springs on land called Finfinne by the Oromo people who lived there. As historian Getahun Benti argues, “From its earliest days, Addis Ababa was the staging station for the economic exploitation and political control of the conquered provinces of which Oromia was the largest.2 It was at Finfinne that Empress Taytu Betul renamed the city “Addis Ababa,” a strong proclamation of the ambitions of both Taytu and Emperor Menelik II.

    Figure 1
    Figure 1. Major capitals of Ethiopia. Ronald J. Horvath, “The Wandering Capitals of Ethiopia,” Journal of African History 10 no. 2 (1969): 208

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Partial view of Menelik II’s Palace in the area formerly known as “Gebi,” now grounds of Prime Minister’s residence. Source: Ethiopundit.

    Many recent texts on Addis Ababa explore the founding of the city as a project of modernity, one that Emperor Menelik II undertook after successfully conquering portions of what is today the southern region of Ethiopia. Menelik II’s reign, from 1889 to 1913 brought into existence the modern borders of the country, and he chose to rule from a central location, symbolically bringing together the northern and southern regions. The question of modernity as it applies to Addis Ababa, however, has yet to be answered. This is a direct result of the fact that modernity itself is subject to different definitions and interpretations. Menelik II, in his diplomatic relationships with various countries, believed he was creating the modern state of Ethiopia. His defeat of the Italians at the Battle of Adwa in 1896 proved that Ethiopia had the military prowess to fend off colonization in the “scramble for Africa.” Yet, by the time Emperor Haile I Selassie fled to England as the Italians invaded Ethiopia from Eritrea in 1935, Italian claims of Ethiopian primitivism served as fodder for their imperial conquests.

    Figure-3_Addis_Ababa
    Figure 3. What does it mean to be a modern African capital?  View up Churchill Avenue.

    Early Industrialization and Urbanization in the Imperial City

    The narrative arc of the Addis Ababa Museum, established in 1986 on the centennial of the city’s founding, explained how the city became the epitome of a modern, cosmopolitan entity within a few decades. Exhibition material in Finfinne Hall of the museum highlighted the beauty of the highly detailed wooden structures erected under the early part of Menelik II’s reign. The craftsmen for these structures came from various regions that had trade relationships with Ethiopia, including India. Menelik II's palaces at Finfinne and Addis Alem show clear Indian detailing and architectural motifs. The next room in the museum focused on Alfred Ilg, a Swiss engineer who brought a significant amount of industrial technology to the country (Ilg also extensively photographed Menelik II’s court). The rapid urbanization of the city of Addis Ababa after its founding, the cosmopolitan nature of the market spaces and trade relationships that brought foreign goods to Arada (later Piazza), the introduction of the rail line, electricity, bridges, and other feats of civil engineering are the hallmarks of Menelik II and Taytu’s reign. Mekonnen Worku, in his 2008 urban design master’s thesis proclaimed Menelik II “the great modernizer of Ethiopia.”3

    Figure-4_Addis_Ababa
    Figure 4. Building on the complex of the Central Statistical Agency. While I have not yet discovered the original use of the building, guards told me it was the location of the first Bank of Abyssinia.

    Figure-5_Addis_Ababa
    Figure 5. Residence in the Arada/Piazza area of Addis Ababa.

    Figure-6_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 6. La Gare, constructed in the 1920s. This station linked land-locked Ethiopia to the port of Djibouti.

    Even with the introduction of industrial technologies to the young capital, could one argue that the city was truly modern? Several scholars dispute the claim. Andreas Eshete, former president of Addis Ababa University, where he was also a professor of law and philosophy, argues “there is a crucial distinction between the advent of the idea of modernity on the one hand, and its psychological and institutional realization on the other.”4 He bases his argument on the fact that throughout the first 70 years of the city’s existence, the imperial powers, centrality of Orthodox Christianity, Italian Fascist presence, and communist rule disallowed “popular legitimate rule by free and equal citizens, the abolition of all privileges of birth or inherited position, equality of faiths and cultural communities, industrialization, and secularism.5” Indeed, Ethiopia was an imperial nation until the overthrow of Selassie in 1974, and operated under major themes of exceptionalism – Ethiopia of antiquity, with ruling parties claiming direct descent from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon; Ethiopia, one of the earliest Christian nations; Ethiopia the modern nation that resisted European colonialism.

    For much of the short history of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has been a country of centralized power, resting with the looming historical figures of Menelik II, Selassie, and Mengistu. This factor allowed for the exploitation of Addis Ababa’s topography for expressions of power. Planning historian Dandena Tufa suggests that Empress Taytu was most influential in the early layout of the town. She wanted military officials and their soldiers to settle around the palace for purposes of defense, so the earliest settlements were on the high grounds of the Finfinne region. Additionally, Tufa states, “This original settlement layout was based on a traditional land use system that was derived from the settlement structure of the northern part of Ethiopia.6

    Figure-7_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 7. Traditional territories in vertical space: garrison “säfär” and a church with village development from Dandena Tufa, “Historical Development of Addis Ababa: Plans and Realities,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 41 no. 1/2 (June-December 2008): 34

    Military and political officials associated with the imperial power were literally “lifted” above the common people, “reshaping of [the] topography to locate and display differences and hierarchies of power, wealth, and status:”

    The most elevated part of the city was reserved for the highest authority in the land—the king— subsequently becoming the nucleus of the city that was being organized concentrically. In a descending order, politically and geographically, land was allotted beginning from top officials to those at the bottom of the socioeconomic order.7

    Embassies were situated close to imperial compounds, also on the high ground. Eshete also discusses how political control was a major factor that “pervaded the organization of Addis Ababa in the 1880s, the restructuring of its space under Italian colonialism in the late 1930s, and its modernization after the 1940s.”8

    These physical realities were very clear to me (and my legs – what a workout!) as I visited significant architectural sites in Addis Ababa. The Addis Ababa Museum, former home of Ras Biru Wolde Gabriel (War Minister of Menelik II), the Beate Maryam Church (Menelik II Museum), the Holy Trinity (Selassie) Cathedral, the St. Giorgis Cathedral, and Ras Makonnen Hall (formerly Guenete Leul Palace, the residence of Haile I Selassie, and currently under the aegis of Addis Ababa University), were all on high ground. While I initially had not studied the planning of Addis Ababa before visiting these sites, the physical realities of their high positions were not lost on me. They certainly would not have been lost on a resident of Addis Ababa in the early stages of the city’s development.

    Figure-8_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 8. Beate Maryam was accessible only after a steep climb up the Gebi hill on the grounds of the Prime Ministers residence.

    Landscape designer and city planner Sara Zewde, who is currently pursuing her MLA at Harvard School of Design, has been a useful contact during my time in Addis Ababa. A U.S. born second-generation Ethiopian, she split her childhood between New Orleans and Houston. Her research and work has helped me think about urbanism in the Global South in new and exciting ways. Zewde put me in touch with Brook Teklehaimanot, a practicing architect and professor at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction, and City Development. Teklehaimanot supplied me with the basics of urban development in Ethiopia, and the challenges the city faces today as it undergoes rapid growth and construction.

    Brook Teklehaimanot Lecture “Addis and its Urbanism”

    Italian Colonialism or, The Occupation 1936-1941

    “They got hopes and plans a getting’ rid of me
    I hit ‘em like Ethiopia hit up Italy”

    Black Thought of The Roots
    “The Show (Must Go On)” feat. Common and Dice Raw
    Rising Down, 2008

    I was sitting in my bed reading about the history of Addis Ababa while listening to the unparalleled, multiple Grammy award winning, hip-hop band The Roots when that song lyric resounded in my ears. I was reinvigorated by the intersection of my love for hip-hop with my quest to understand Ethiopian history. One will find, within scholarly texts on Ethiopia that focus on the period between 1936 and 1941, various methods of referring to the Italian presence in the country. The decision to call the time period an occupation, as many pro-Ethiopian and nationalist publications suggest, or colonization, as many studies on Italian Fascism suggest, is a truly political statement. Ethiopian resistance to European colonization is a central part of its historical memory/mythology and exceptionalism. Most architectural publications on the subject, interestingly enough, choose to describe the period as one of colonization.

    Ethiopia, along with Libya, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland were the countries that made up the entity of l'Africa Orientale Italiana. This region became a site of “engage[ment] in the mystical discovery of the former Roman presence, to feel the miracle of an ancient society coming to life, and to sense a vital spiritual connection with the past.”9 The Italian presence had tangible consequences for Ethiopians. Italy began a campaign of “modernizing” the region in the language of Italian Fascist architecture. Urban plans recreated pre-existing cities into the utopia of an Italian regime. Le Corbusier even submitted a plan for Addis Ababa to Mussolini based on his Radiant City scheme. Thankfully, many of these plans were not fully realized. Architectural developments came in the form of public and governmental buildings such as post offices, banks, and administrative centers. These were the objects of empire, in the same way (though on a much smaller scale) that the circus and theaters of the ancient Roman Empire were established in colonial cities.

    Ethiopians in Addis Ababa as well as other major cities in the “Italian Empire” were subject to “racial segregation at all levels:”

    In the Fascist version of apartheid, districts of all major towns were reserved exclusively for white settlers, conjugal relations between Italians and Africans were criminalized, collective activities were prohibited. The relationship between settlers and subjects was organized along hierarchical lines. In all accounts of empire, the indigenous population was represented as the other of the new imperial structure.10

    These ideals were adapted to the topographical realities of Addis Ababa. While Italian master plans for the city did not acknowledge the topographical layout of the site, the need of Italian imperial powers to be seen as domineering was easily adaptable to the layout of Ethiopian imperial hierarchy in the city. Cultural anthropologist Mia Fuller discusses the implications of Italian segregation practices in the forms of “exposure and visibility.” She argues “The guiding principle was to make blacks, except insofar as their 'quarters' needed to be supervised, as invisible as possible to whites, and to make whites as visible as possible to blacks, in a public, though not a private sense.”11 This discourse on visibility reminded me of several passages I had read many years before in “Duality and Invisibility: Race and Memory in the Urbanism of the American South,” in the volume Sites of Memory: Perspectives on Architecture and Race, written by Craig Barton, current Director of The Design School at Arizona State University. There were also similarities to Getahun Benti’s description of the subjugation of the Oromo peoples in the early founding of Addis Ababa in “A Nation Without a City [A Blind Person Without a Cane]: The Oromo Struggle for Addis Ababa.” One thing that was significant in this intersection of discourse, however, was that ethnic and racial dominance in an urban setting often depended on intricate social engineering of interactions within the public sphere.

    The Promise of Pan-African Modernity

    The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) was established in 1958, while the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in 1963, both in Addis Ababa. Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah was a vocal advocate for the founding of the OAU (now known as the African Union, or AU). There was a particular kinship between Ghana and Ethiopia, Kwame Nkrumah and Haile I. Selassie. It is not a coincidence then, that the first Encyclopedia Africana that W. E. B. Du Bois published while in Ghana actually covered the two countries together. Here the claims for exceptionalism that put the two countries at the forefront of the Pan Africanist movement were strong. Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence, and Ethiopia, the only nation in Africa to resist European colonization.

    Figure-9_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 9. UNECA building, constructed 1961 by Italian architect Arturo Mezzedimi. It was expanded in 1975.

    Similar to Accra, Addis Ababa looked to outside architects to define its post-war, Pan-Africanist modernity (foreign architects had significant influence in the construction and erection of the most important buildings in Addis Ababa since its founding). The Goethe-Institut in Addis Ababa hosted an exhibition in December 2013 entitled “Addis Modern: Rediscovering the 1960s Architecture of Africa’s Capital City,” that “focus[ed] on series of buildings with contextual, structural, monumental, formal, minimal and sculptural approaches to architecture.”12

    Examples were numerous. Along the monumental Churchill Avenue, laid out by French planner L. De Marien in the 1960s, I found the Ethiopian National Theatre (completed in 1955), the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Television and Radio Building. They all possessed a very sculpture quality in their construction, and were “modern” landmarks along the Addis Ababa street that was inspired by the Champs-Elysees. To be clear, these singular moments along the street did not give the same type of coherence of urban fabric that one would find in Haussmannian Paris.

    Figure-10_Addis_Aababa
    Figure 10. Commercial building near Churchill Avenue.

    Figure-11_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 11. Undated postcard image of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia on Churchill Avenue. Source: Postcard Exchange.

    Another major public work that was created during the 1960s is the John F. Kennedy Library on the campus of Addis Ababa University. The John F. Kennedy Library is situated slightly off the ceremonial path of the university campus that leads from its historic gates to Ras Makonnen Hall. And here is where things get exceedingly interesting. The Washington-based architecture firm McLeod, Ferrara, and Ensign, designed the John F. Kennedy Library. McLeod, Ferrara, and Ensign, at the same time, was working on the construction of Howard D. Woodson High School in Northeast Washington, D.C. They completed the design for Howard D. Woodson High School in 1972; the school was demolished in 2008. The building was featured prominently in my dissertation “Concrete Solutions: Architecture of Public High Schools During the Urban Crisis.” So when I trekked off the main path of Addis Ababa University to see the John F. Kennedy Library (as an American I felt it was my duty somehow, strange as that sounds) I was completely floored by the discovery of the architecture firm.

    Figure-12_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 12. John F. Kennedy Library on the campus of Addis Ababa University.

    Addis Ababa Today: Modernity and Heritage

    Addis Ababa is an exceedingly young capital in a country with an amazing historical legacy, however none of the UNESCO World Heritage sites listed for Ethiopia are located in the country’s capital. Neither are any of the tentative sites. This does not mean that Addis Ababa lacks architectural heritage worthy of preservation. The United States Embassy in Addis Ababa received the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation in 2007 for the restoration of the Mohammed Ali House. According to the World Monuments Fund website, which listed the building on its watch in 2008:

    Minas Kherbekian, a well-known Armenian architect from the region, constructed the house to be the headquarters of the powerful trading firm G.M. Mohammadali. The structure echoes the diversity of styles and materials of the buildings surrounding it, exhibiting traces of Indian, Arab, and Ethiopian influences.13

    U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is a truly exciting initiative from the Department of State, granting direct funds to projects around the world. The work of preservation should not just rest with organizations dedicated to architecture, but those dedicated to the political diplomacy as well.

    The socio-cultural battle for Addis Ababa, the modern “capital city of Africa” is not yet over. The struggle is embedded within the urban fabric of the city through the erection of key political and cultural buildings. The Oromia Cultural Center, currently under construction, carries with it the hopes of the Oromo people to re-establish authority in the capital city. The Architectural Design and Research Institute of Shanghai’s Tongji University designed the new African Union building, the tallest building in the Addis Ababa skyline. The Chinese government funded construction. Scholar Lloyd G. Adu Amoah argues Chinese “soft imperium” is undermining African claims of sovereignty and modernity in Addis Ababa as well as in Accra. The topic of Chinese involvement in rapidly expanding African cities is also covered in design critic Justin Zhuang’s Metropolis article “How Chinese Urbanism Is Transforming African Cities.” Visible presence in the built environment of the city is important for entities seeking legitimization and a strengthened profile in the African capital city. Historian Shimelis Bonsa Gulema in “City as Nation: Imagining and Practicing Addis Ababa as a Modern and National Space,” contends:

    On the one hand, the multiplicity of narratives demands constructing the city as a city of modernity, but also as a modern city of tradition, a city that could negotiate between its past and the past of the nation on the one hand and the modernist aspirations of its leaders and occupants on the other. It also requires cultivating and displaying the city’s various origins and characters as Ethiopian, African, and cosmopolitan urban space but also as national, imperial, and revolutionary.14

    This has been the dilemma of the “New Flower” and the project of African modernity in the twentieth century. There is money to be spent in Addis Ababa, evident by the McMansions sprouting up in the stylish Bole area. Despite a conservative culture, Ethiopians are also avant-garde and trendy, as fashionistas strolling down major thoroughfares can confirm. There is a palpable energy in Addis Ababa (also felt in Accra) that the city is contributing to the trend of “Africa Rising” in the twenty-first century. The city has been banking on the notion since 1886.

    Figure-13_Addis_Ababa
    Figure 13. Lion of Judah statue. Junction of Churchill Avenue and plaza in front of La Gare. Construction of new elevated metro seen in lower region of photograph, as well as construction of skyscraper to the right.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended reading:

    Hussein Ahmed, “Faith and Trade: The Market Stalls around the Anwar Mosque in Addis Ababa during Ramadan,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 19 no. 2 (1999): 261-268

    Getahun Benti, “A Nation Without a City [A Blind Person Without a Cane]: The Oromo Struggle for Addis Ababa” Northeast African Studies 9 no. 3 (2002): 115-131

    Charles Burdett, “Italian Fascism and Utopia,” History of the Human Sciences 16 no. 1 (2003): 93-108

    Maurice De Young, “An African Emporium, The Addis Märkato,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 5 no. 2 (July 1967): 103-122

    Mia Fuller, “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Fascist Plans for the Colonial City of Addis Ababa and the Colonizing Suburb of EUR '42,” Journal of Contemporary History 31 no. 2 (April 1996): 397-418

    Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis, ed. Special Issue: Engaging the Image of Art, Culture, and Philosophy: Particular Perspectives on Ethiopian Modernity and Modernism

    Northeast African Studies 13 no. 1 (2013)

    Fasil Giorghis & Denis Gérard, Addis Ababa 1886-1941: The City and Its Architectural Heritage (Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2007)

    Shimelis Bonsa Gulema, “City as Nation: Imagining and Practicing Addis Ababa as a Modern and National Space,” Northeast African Studies 13 no. 1 (2013): 167-213

    Ronald J. Horvath, “The Wandering Capitals of Ethiopia,” Journal of African History 10 no. 2 (1969): 205-219

    Mark Jarzombek, “Fasil Giorghis, Ethiopia and the Borderland of the Architectural Avant-garde,” Construction Ahead (May-August 2008): 38-42

    Belle Asante Tarsitani, “Linking Centralised Politics to Custodianship of

    Cultural Heritage in Ethiopia: Examples of National-Level Museums in Addis Ababa,” African Studies 70 no. 2 (2011): 302-320

    Dandena Tufa, “Historical Development of Addis Ababa: Plans and Realities,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 41 no. 1/2 (June-December 2008): 27-59

    Dagmawi Woubshet, Salamishah Tillet, and Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis, eds. Special Issue: Ethiopia, Literature, Art and Culture Callaloo 33 no. 1 (Winter 2010)

    Mekonnen Worku, “Heritage Conservation Oriented Planning: Heritage Policy in Light of Sustainable Urban Planning, The Case of Piazza LDP, Addis Ababa,” (Master’s thesis, Addis Ababa University, 2008)

    Mulatu Wubneh, “Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Africa’s Diplomatic Capital,” Cities 35 (2013): 255-269



    1. “The Finfinne Hall,” Exhibit. Addis Ababa Museum.
    2. Getahun Benti, “A Nation Without a City [A Blind Person Without a Cane]: The Oromo Struggle for Addis Ababa” Northeast African Studies 9 no. 3 (2002): 117.

    3. Mekonnen Worku, “Heritage Conservation Oriented Planning: Heritage Policy in Light of Sustainable Urban Planning, The Case of Piazza LDP, Addis Ababa,” (Master’s thesis, Addis Ababa University, 2008), 3.
    4. Andreas Eshete, “Modernity: Its Title to Uniqueness and its Advent in Ethiopia: From the Lecture What is ‘Zemenawinet? – Perspectives on Ethiopian Modernity,” Northeast African Studies 13 no. 1 (2013): 12.
    5. Ibid.

    6. Dandena Tufa, “Historical Development of Addis Ababa: Plans and Realities,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 41 no. 1/2 (June-December 2008): 32.

    7. Shimelis Bonsa Gulema, “City as Nation: Imagining and Practicing Addis Ababa as a Modern and National Space,” Northeast African Studies 13 no. 1 (2013): 171.

    8. Gulema, 173.

    9. Charles Burdett, “Italian Fascism and Utopia,” History of the Human Sciences 16 no. 1 (2003): 99.

    10. Burdett, 102.

    11. Mia Fuller, “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Fascist Plans for the Colonial City of Addis Ababa and the Colonizing Suburb of EUR '42,” Journal of Contemporary History 31 no. 2 (April 1996): 405.

    12. The Goethe-Institut hosts a great variety of exhibits and talks on architecture and urbanism in Africa generally, and Addis Ababa more specifically.

    13. “Mohammad Ali House,” World Monuments Fund http://www.wmf.org/project/mohammad-ali-house.

    14. Gulema, City as Nation, 191.
    1 Comment
  • Greater Accra and Cape Coast

    By
    Brooks Fellow Amber N. Wiley
     |
    Nov 7, 2014

    I was not ready to leave Ghana. I had not yet visited Kumasi, walked the campus of KNUST, or seen the Asante traditional buildings that survived British destruction in 1874. I truncated my trip due to the pressures of the health epidemic in West Africa (although no cases of Ebola were reported in Ghana), and left a month to the day that I arrived. My purpose was to research architectural heritage and urbanism in Accra, Cape Coast, Kumasi, and (optimistically, if I had enough time) the Northern Region. As I began to meet people around Accra and describe my plans to do first-hand study of architecture in Ghana, I was often countered with the question “Why Ghana?” I address this question in an essay in the forthcoming Ghana Institute of Architects Journal produced by ArchiAfrika. When I talked about the history of architecture in the country I was accused of romanticizing the vernacular tradition that many of my critics considered “backwards,” while highlighting the ugly history of slavery. My task was to paint a picture of more than “mud huts” and “slave castles” (I understand the derogatory nature of the former term, and the dark nature of the latter). I wanted to highlight and emphasize the many lessons to be learned both in the construction and the cultural histories embedded within the structures.

    Ghana_Figure-1
    Figure 1. Vernacular wattle-and-daub building near Kpong.

    Ghana_Figure-2
    Figure 2. Cape Coast Castle.

    Greater Accra

    I had the most wonderful fortune in making strong connections in Accra. I reached out to Yale Club of Ghana president Kofi Blankson Ocansey who took the time to meet with me and introduce me to his good friend, architect Joe Osae-Addo. I sat and talked with the two at a trendy gelato shop, Ci Gusta, in the Airport Residential neighborhood of Accra. The scene was indicative of the bustling and chic nature of Accra’s nightlife, with countless groups of people filing in and out of the shop.

    The Yale alumni connection to Ghana had been growing over the last few years.1 In 2012 and 2013 the Yale Alumni Service Corps hosted a trip to the village of Yamoransa in Central Ghana near Cape Coast. In 2013 the Yale Club of Ghana, in cooperation with the Association of Yale Alumni and the Yale Black Alumni Association, held the conference “From Success to Significance: Thought Leaders in the African Renaissance.” Finally, in 2014 the Ghana club launched the Yale Green Ghana Campaign. All of these exciting endeavors meant that I would have ready access to a network of leaders in the country who are interested in social responsibility and social entrepreneurship, environmental issues, economics, history, culture, and how all of these topics relate to Ghana’s future.

    Architect Joe Osae-Addo introduced me to contacts with whom to discuss architectural history and current trends in Ghana, including former mayor and architectural historian Nat Nuno-Amarteifio. I joined Amarteifio and representatives of the DOEN Foundation for a tour of Accra one bright Ghana morning. Amarteifio narrated a succinct history of the greater metropolitan area before we left his office. I understood why people refer to him as “Uncle Nat.” His narrative was spoken in the proverbial manner of a wise elder. His story started with the settlement of the Ga people in what is today Accra. The settlement location was ideally central in a trade route that stretched from Mauritania and Senegal in the west to Nigeria and Cameroon in the east then north passing through the Asante kingdom and all the way up to Morocco. This trade, along with fishing, is how Accra flourished and sustained itself in the seventeenth century. Amarteifio noted that although there were no gold deposits in Accra, gold was the primary trade commodity in the region – hence the name the “Gold Coast.”

    European traders were able to gain three pieces of land on which to build their forts in the vicinity of the city. As Amarteifio proclaimed “Now this was the beginning of Accra as well as the end of Accra.” The slave trade became central to the region, with Accra still maintaining its influence due to its ideal location along a well-established trade route. Amarteifio stated that the Ga people survived in this situation by being highly adaptable, becoming middlemen in a network of so much power and money. The power, however, did not rest with the Ga because their local hegemony got in the way. Despite the turmoil of European settlement and power struggles with the Asante to the north, Accra “remained the fulcrum of power” because it became the headquarters of the British Gold Coast colonial administration in 1877.2

    Ghana_Figure-3
    Figure 3. Former slaveholding site now a family compound, James Town, Accra.

    Ghana_Figure-4
    Figure 4. Wato Club, Ussher Town, Accra.

    Ghana_Figure-5
    Figure 5. Structure near Christiansborg (Osu) Castle, Osu, Accra.

    Amarteifio rode us through the distinct neighborhoods of the city. The remnants of the British (James Town), Dutch (Ussher Town) and Danish (Osu) settlements were fascinating. These neighborhoods have controversial histories and create an urban fabric that is entrenched in, and inseparable from, the fabric of contemporary Accra. One finds within the neighborhoods buildings of fine and unique architectural stock hidden within plain sight.

     These buildings are inextricably tied to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as is much of the history of the former Gold Coast. Aaron Kofi Badu Yankholmes, a doctoral student of hotel and tourism management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University conducted a series of surveys after 2009 and found that most residents of Danish Osu knew about the history of the slave trade in their neighborhood, and supported large scale tourism efforts around that heritage.

    I toured James Town with Nii Teiko Tagoe, project director of the Ga Mashie Development Agency (GAMADA). Ga Mashie, the area originally inhabited by the Ga people, then successfully settled by British (James Town) and Dutch (Ussher Town), is the oldest portion of Accra. The labyrinthine residential fabric of James Town reminded me of the hutong complexes I saw over a decade ago in Beijing. The double-story compound house is the dominant structure type in the area. According to a report of the Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI):

    Very often these houses are arranged into clusters connected to each other via alleyways. From the aerial viewpoint, the buildings appear scattered and unplanned… the Gas’ style of cluster home design came about as a result of the frequent slave raids during the era of slave-trading. Since most of the structures were built over 80 years ago and have been passed on by, and to, generations of family members, the most common form of home ownership is a communal one, by the extended family.3

    James Town was once one of the richest portions of the city because its residents were allied with the British. Today, however, it is one of the poorest and most neglected neighborhoods. The move of port activity from James Town to Tema negatively affected the fishermen who had worked in the area for centuries.

    The Millennium Cities Initiative is a project by the Earth Institute of Columbia University to “help selected, under-resourced municipalities across sub-Saharan Africa eradicate searing urban poverty and attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”4 The preliminary research conducted under this initiative in the Ga Mashie area of James Town focuses on:

    Identify[ing] and develop[ing] urban and economic development interventions that can help create a balanced plan that both preserves the unique Ga Mashie cultural heritage and character, while revitalizing the area’s local economy, in particular, tourism development and social entrepreneurship in the “informal sector.” 5

    The report includes the “identification of 150 buildings deemed to be of historical importance.”6 A formal plan is being developed to stabilize and preserve these structures.

    Ghana_Figure-6
    Figure 6. Millennium Development Goals.

    Tagoe discussed his work in the area, highlighting housing needs and tasks for urban revitalization. Some of the biggest challenges facing the area are lack of adequate sanitation and the related public health problems, lack of open green space, and the pressure of overpopulation coupled with a housing crisis. The housing crisis is due to the unaffordability of new construction, but also derives from the age-old tradition of generations and branches of families living within one single compound. This situation has been exacerbated by high poverty rates, and the need of families to supplement resources by taking in ever increasing numbers of family members. The GAMADA has worked to alleviate some of these issues by strategically paving roads, planting trees, and supplying plastic buckets for sanitation needs. Large scale projects such as the construction of more housing has been stalled due to a lack of monetary resources, but Tagoe – born and raised in James Town – is both optimistic and tireless in his efforts to improve living conditions in the neighborhood.

    One part of this puzzle is the promotion of cultural heritage and the arts in James Town. GAMADA has co-sponsored a number of festivals in the area such as the Chale Wote street art festival and Kpanlogo Musical Fiesta. The Chale Wote festival:

    Re-imagines African folktales through a variety of art forms - graffiti murals, large photography displays, interactive art installations, live street performances, extreme sports stunting, an African film festival, a fashion parade, a DJ jam block party, beach music concert, fashion and food marketplace.”7

    These efforts bring outside interest and investment to the area, while highlighting the cultural power of the past and the present in the neighborhood. Granted, many of the urban interventions are ephemeral, however, the renewed public and international interest in the neighborhood aids the efforts in local promotion and social entrepreneurship.

    Cape Coast

    The centuries-old legacy of slavery and its effects were ever-present in the urban fabric of Accra. Slavery is also the basis of heritage tourism along the Cape Coast, where Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle, designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, are the center of tourism interests in the region. Twenty years ago UNESCO developed the Slave Route Project with three main objectives:

    • Contribute to a better understanding of the causes, forms of operation, issues and consequences of slavery in the world (Africa, Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, Middle East and Asia);
    • Highlight the global transformations and cultural interactions that have resulted from this history; and
    • Contribute to a culture of peace by promoting reflection on cultural pluralism, intercultural dialogue and the construction of new identities and citizenships.8

    In 2007 the Ghana Ministry of Tourism launched the Joseph Project, an initiative to coincide with the Golden Jubilee celebration of independence and the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. These projects and their respective sites build on the idea of “roots tourism,” and the Joseph Project in particular meant to attract members of the African diaspora (and particularly African Americans with American dollars to spend) searching for cultural linkage backs to Ghana. These projects, however, are not without critique of their effectiveness and intended audience.

    Despite various motives and missions, these projects have a fundamental concept in common – that the Transatlantic Slave Trade was a major global phenomenon, linking the “old” and “new” worlds. As landscape architect and historian Kwesi J. Degraft-Hanson notes, “Atlantic slavery involved many people and places in Europe, Africa and the Americas.”9 He describes the concept of a “landscape of slavery” as:

    Places that were significantly impacted by Atlantic slavery. It includes European ports like Lisbon, Liverpool, Nantes and Copenhagen, where ships were outfitted for the trade, and the forts, castles and communities in the interior or along the African coast that were slaves’ point of origin or holding areas. It also describes destination coasts, warehouses, slave marts and plantations where slaves were taken in the Americas.10

    The immense breadth and depth of the landscape of slavery is evident in the number of current and tentative World Heritage Sites that UNESCO identifies as related to the slave trade through the Slave Route Project. Fourteen sites are inscribed to the World Heritage List for criteria directly related to slavery. These include the forts and castles of Ghana, as well as the Statue of Liberty. Twenty-eight sites are linked to slavery and slave routes but are not inscribed for that criterion. Independence Hall, Monticello, and the University of Virginia are included on that list. Finally, thirty-eight tentative sites for inclusion on the list are related to slavery and slave routes. These include places linked to sugar production in the Caribbean, as well as churches and forts in Africa.

    Tourism scholars Rasul A. Mowatt and H. Charles Chancellor argue in their article “Visiting Death and Life: Dark Tourism and Slave Castles,” that this method of tourism promotion relies on constructed memories, “real and imagined pasts.” This shared past develops a worldview that is “stretched across nationalities and has created a super transnational identity.”11 The conflation of identity as described in the article, however, it is a bit too idealistic and romanticized. Mowatt and Chancellor argue, “Subtle ethnic differences between Africans and individuals of African descent born in the Americas and the Caribbean are virtually washed away at Slave Castles.”12

    I beg to differ, as my personal experiences at Cape Coast and Elmina castles have proven otherwise. The educational systems of various countries treat the topic of slavery in exceedingly different ways. This was markedly clear on my tour of Elmina Castle. Led by a native Ghanaian, the tour included myself – an African-American descendant of slaves; my good friend of African-American and Ghanaian descent; her boyfriend, born in Ireland and raised in the United States; a Zimbabwean, and a Ghanaian. The types of questions asked by each tourist and the topics covered by the tour guide indicated that there was no universal understanding or structure of feeling regarding the site. Additionally, each person’s physical presence within the castle was particularly revealing. I observed how some people lingered in specific spaces longer than others, and whether they touched the building to feel the cold, harsh realities of the walls. Some people felt comfortable taking pictures of themselves in slave dungeons and by the Door of No Return. I did not, and neither did my American compatriots. I was more comfortable taking pictures of the structures and discreet documentary pictures of my friends touring the castles than taking pictures of myself in the structures. This was, for me, a very telling difference – I felt I would dishonor my ancestors with a selfie or a Facebook profile pic. This was not the case for all on the tour. In writing this expository I, in no means, aim to judge. I just want to illustrate the marked difference of experience and relationship to the structures themselves that I witnessed between members of various nationalities.

    Ghana_Figure-7
    Figure 7. Male dungeons with evidence of blood, urine, defecation, and vomit still caked onto the ground. Cape Coast Castle.

    This discussion leads to another topic – interpretations and uses of fort in contemporary times. The tours at the castles are aimed at creating both a cerebral and emotional response. Museum displays in Cape Coast Castle include slave shackles and branding equipment. Floors in the dungeon still contain stains from blood, urine, defecation, and vomit. Even with these in-your-face tactics, however, criticism has emerged about the decision to paint the castles white. Critics argue that by doing so, site curators have literally “white-washed” and sanitized an otherwise gruesome history. I would have to disagree with that sentiment, based on the fact that so many other interpretive modes in the spaces work in the opposite manner.

    Ghana_Figure-8
    Figure 8. The tour guide turned the lights off in a male dungeon of Cape Coast Castle to give a better sense of the environmental conditions of bondage.

    There are over 40 extant slave forts and castles throughout Ghana, and these buildings have been in use almost consistently since their construction. Some had been converted to prisons, some housed schools, and others have been the bases of governmental and municipal functions in post-colonial and post-independence times. The first slave fort I visited in Ghana was actually Fort Good Hope on the outskirts of Senya Beraku. I visited on a Sunday. The doors were wide open, music was blasting out the store on the first floor, and my friends and I purchased beers and explored the structure. There was a nice patio set up above the store, so we sat and talked a bit. The fort also served as a guesthouse, so we walked by various rooms that housed visitors, international and domestic alike. The whole time I was there, marveling at the structure, I had no idea I was in a former slave fort. I assumed it was simply a military structure meant for the protection of a settlement. My experience there was decidedly different from my later trips to Elmina and Cape Coast Castle. When I realized my mistake weeks later, I felt ashamed because I did not have the same “appropriate” emotive response to the structure.

    Ghana_Figure-9
    Figure 9. View of the fishing boats in the Gulf of Guinea from Fort Good Hope.

    How could I visit a fort that formerly held slaves and not know it? Fort Good Hope was light on interpretation and heavy on contemporary use. This is the case for many of the slave forts that have a primary function besides diasporic tourism. As historian Elizabeth Macgonagle explains:

    Whether dungeons in less well-known forts under the shadow of Elmina hold crates of beer and a television, as is the case at Senya Beraku, or two children’s bikes, such as at Axim, the shifting use of these spaces reflects a wider historical view beyond the slave trade. Ghanaians demonstrate their preoccupation with the present and their designs for the future through the changing use of the forts. They do not appear to dwell on histories of slavery, for more pressing contemporary needs are evident.13

    Fort Good Hope is a guesthouse, contains a store, and hosts parties and other special celebrations. It is one of the grandest edifices in the immediate region. As such, its function rests within its contemporary use, one that does not emphasize its torturous past.

    Modern and Contemporary Ghanaian Architecture

    One thing that pleasantly surprised me during my time in Ghana was the profusion of “contemporary vernaculars.” While walking through James Town I happened upon a number of tribal chief house and palaces. These spectacularly rich buildings are places of administrative, cultural, and social importance. Many are large and extremely colorful so they stand out amongst the other structures in the area. The Ngleshie Alata Mantse Palace of “Jamestown British Accra” as the façade indicates, is replete with images of traditional regal Ghanaian ceremonies and European military prowess. The low-relief sculpture is emotive and festive.

    Ghana_Figure-10
    Figure 10. Ngleshie Alata Mantse Palace, James Town, Accra.

    Ghana_Figure-11
    Figure 11. Asafo posuban shrine, Elmina.

    Another fascinating contemporary vernacular practice was the erection of the Posuban shrines by various Fante military companies (asafo). These military organizations have histories that pre-date colonial times, however, they changed their purpose to social and civic interests in the face of European military occupation. The Fante military companies have rich dance and flag-making traditions in addition to the manifestation of their power and influence in built form. The origin and evolution of the shrines are well-documented in splendid detail by curator and scholar of West African art Doran H. Ross in the article “‘Come and Try:’ Towards a History of Fante Military Shrines.” Ross describes the eclectic nature of the architectural design as influenced by “a mix of European fortifications, local funerary art, naval architecture, Christian church-building traditions, and indigenous religious practices.14 Today the shrines serve as meeting places where celebrations occur and business is conducted.

    Ghana_Figure-12
    Figure 12. Independence Arch with former Accra mayor and architectural historian Nat Nuno-Amarteifio and representatives of the DOEN Foundation.

    Significant architecture was constructed in Accra to monumentalize Ghana’s important position as the first independent Sub-Saharan nation of Africa. Art historian Janet Berry Hess argues that Kwame Nkrumah adopted a version of the International Style that would “construct community” in the newly independent nation as a “means of managing a heterogeneous cultural environment.15 During the mid-twentieth century the country experienced a boom in tropical regional modernist designs. Architects such as Maxwell Fry, Jane Drew, and Harry Weese were active in this wave of design. Numerous articles in DOCOMOMO Journal 28 Modern Heritage in Africa highlight this movement.

    As an African-American it was important for me to pay homage to the final resting place of W. E. B. Du Bois and understand Ghana’s appeal to black intelligentsia such as Du Bois, Richard Wright, and Maya Angelou in the mid-twentieth century. This call also pulled renowned African-American architect J. Max Bond, Jr. to work in Ghana, where he designed the Bolgatanga Library.

    Ghana_Figure-13
    Figure 13. W. E. B. Du Bois Mausoleum, Accra.

    Ghana_Figure-14
    Figure 14. W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial House, Accra.

    As Hess notes:

    The DuBois Center – which encompasses the former home and mausoleum of the Pan-Africanist and African American activist DuBois -expresses in its modern architectural form, its dedication text, and its installations lauding the achievements of both DuBois and Nkrumah a merging of idealism and architectural modernity.16

    Architectural modernism provided the tabula rasa from whence Ghana could exert its new independence and present itself to the world as a modern African nation. The establishment of the College of Architecture and Planning at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in 1957 helped to further those ideals.

    Cultural Capital

    One can begin to understand how the flow of capital affects architectural construction – whether it is a trade pilgrimage route of northwestern Ghana that gave rise to a networks of mosques in the region in pre-colonial times; British, Danish, and Dutch capital that formed distinct neighborhoods in Accra and a network of forts along the coast in colonial Ghana; or Chinese capital in post-colonial Ghana that supplies construction needs and financed the erection of the National Theatre. Scholar Lloyd G. Adu Amoah notes, “The very visible and undisguised presence of China’s architectural signature in Accra represents in style and concrete a contemporary fortress-like expression of China’s attempt at constructing a soft imperium in Africa.” He continues:

    This construction of China’s ‘soft power’ seems to be directed at two publics. The first public is the government and the people of Ghana for whom the message is growing Chinese fraternity, benevolence and influence. The other public is China’s geo-strategic political and economic competitors in Ghana and Africa: for them, the message is that China has become a force to reckon with.17

    One has to question historical paradigms framing Ghana’s past and present only in terms of its relationship to colonialism and foreign capitalist expansion. Ghanaian agency is often overlooked in these types of narrative. The discussion moves from architecture and economics to political realities and aspirations. How can we begin to talk about the position of the country in the twenty-first century in ways that take into account other historical, cultural, or social paradigms? How can architecture, design, and cultural heritage help shape the country’s narrative in contemporary times?

    Ghana_Figure-15
    Figure 15. National Theatre of Ghana financed by China and designed by Chinese architect Cheng Taining.

    One organization that is taking up this charge is ArchiAfrika. ArchiAfrika is a self-described “design-based ‘community’ based in- and inspired by- Africa! We are architects, artists, musicians, writers, film makers and creative people who through their work, chronicle the ‘African condition.’”18

    The organization works to “promote design strategies developed within the continent that address the challenges of our future and engage the next generation of professionals in this critical dialogue.”19 The organization is pan-Africanist and international, with board members in Ghana, Morocco, South Africa, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. ArchiAfrika hosts speaker series and conferences, promotes an educational network across various African universities of design, and produces a magazine. ArchiAfrika is well-positioned to lead the charge of highlighting and safeguarding the diverse cultural heritage of Ghana and promoting current Ghanaian architects, but the vision is much bigger and encompasses an ideal of pan-African unity, showing there is strength in numbers.

    1 Full disclosure: I have worked in Yale alumni affairs for over six years in various capacities, so it is particularly exciting to see how the groundwork has been laid by Yale alumni in Ghana.

    2 Conversation with Amarteifio on October 7, 2014.

    3 Abibata Shanni Mahama, Ama Twumwaa Acheampong, Oti Boateng Peprah, and Yaw Agyeman Boafo, “Preliminary Report for Ga Mashie: Urban Design Lab. Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI) The Earth Institute at Columbia University Spring 2011, 7.

    4 Millennium Cities Initiative, “About,” http://mci.ei.columbia.edu/about/

    5 Mahama et al., vi.

    6 Ibid., 27.

    7 Accra Expat.com, “Chale Wote,” http://www.accraexpat.com/events/?story=581&type=event

    8 UNESCO, “The Slave Route,” http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/dialogue/the-slave-route/

    9 Kwesi J. Degraft-Hanson, “The Cultural Landscape of Slavery at Kormantsin, Ghana,” Landscape Research 30 no. 4 (2005): 461.

    10 Ibid.

    11 Rasul A. Mowatt and H. Charles Chancellor, “Visiting Death and Life: Dark Tourism and Slave Castles,” Annals of Tourism Research 38 no. 4 (2011): 1414.

    12 Mowatt and Chancellor, 1415.

    13 Elizabeth Macgonagle, “From Dungeons to Dance Parties: Contested Histories of Ghana's Slave Forts,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 24 no. 2, (2006): 251.

    14 Doran H. Ross, “‘Come and Try:’ Towards a History of Fante Military Shrines,” African Arts 40 no. 3 (Autumn 2007): 23.

    15 Janet Berry Hess, “Imagining Architecture: The Structure of Nationalism in Accra, Ghana,” Africa Today 47 no. 2 (Spring 2000): 42, 45.

    16 Hess, 54.

    17 Lloyd G. Adu Amoah, “China, Architecture and Ghana’s Spaces: Concrete Signs of a Soft Chinese Imperium?” Journal of Asian and African Studies (2014): 1, 2

    18 ArchiAfrika, “About Us,” http://www.archiafrika.org/about-us/

    19 Ibid.

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