12 Best Heritage and Sacred Sites in Africa
Topify present to you TOP SACRED PLACES IN AFRICA. The abode of gods, shrines, tombs, landmark of great events: Tourist Attractions in Africa. Places dedicated to sacred memories are a part of all the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. In these sacred places the seeker encounters the holy and, through rituals, meditation, and revelation, experiences a call to move beyond the self.
The reverence for sacred places has existed as long as people have formed communities. In recent decades, however, it has enjoyed a powerful reawakening.
We take a look at the shrines where apparitions of angels, saints, or a god have been reported. They are the sites of miraculous cures. They are locales of particular signiﬁcance in the natural world, such as sacred mountains or rivers, where the divine is made manifest in nature. Sacred sites also include places associated with the life of a prophet or religious founder.
- 1 Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, Nigeria
- 2 Pyearamids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt
- 3 Gore´e Island, Dakar, Senegal
- 4 Got Kwer, Migori, Kenya
- 5 Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
- 6 Mount Kenya, Kenya
- 7 Kasubi Tombs, Kampala, Uganda
- 8 Abu Mena, Egypt
- 9 Kairouan, Tunisia
- 10 Touba, Senegal
- 11 Isis Temple, Pilae, Egypt
- 12 Moria, South Africa
Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, Nigeria
The Osun-Osogbo sacred grove is a continuing site of African animist religion. It is situated in a dense forest, one of the last remnants of the high forest of coastal Nigeria in Osun state Nigeria. Perhaps, one of the rare groves listed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites, where it is listed as one of only seventeen cultural landscapes.
At one time it was one of many such sacred groves, but now it is the last authentic one surviving. It is believed that, each Yoruba village had a sacred grove outside its boundaries, but modernization and Christianity have slowly eroded the practice, no doubt. Consequently, the Osogbo grove has become a symbol of Yoruba tribal identity.
Most of the other sacred groves dedicated to Osun, the river goddess and one of the wives of Sango, have deteriorated because they were made of mud and wattle and were vulnerable to the heavy rains of the monsoons. When interest in maintaining them ﬂagged, they gradually returned to the earth from which they emerged. The Osogbo grove has survived largely through the efforts of an Austrian artist and advocate, Susanne Wenger, a student of Yoruba religion who married an Osun priest. She recreated sculptures that had been lost. Now dead, Wenger began the New Sacred Art movement in 1960, teaching Yoruba artists how to reclaim their artistic heritage.
The shrine is a low-slung mud structure open at the front. It is used for induction ceremonies for secret societies and rituals connected with coming-ofage ceremonies. In some cases, animal sacriﬁces are offered.
Believed the grove to be the abode of Osun, a fertility goddess. She is the “unseen mother at every gathering.” She represents harmony, love, and the eternal feminine. There is an annual festival of Osun that brings out most of the town and many Yoruba from around the region. Sacriﬁces, dances, and drumming go on for several days. In spirit possession, female devotees dance ecstatically, weep copiously, and ﬂirt with those around them.
Absolutely, one of the best sacred and tourist attraction in Nigeria today.
Pyearamids of Giza, Cairo, Egypt
On the edge of Cairo one of the bestknown ancient sites in the world rises above the surrounding neighborhoods— the three pyearamids of Giza and the Sphinx. Of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the pyearamids are the only ones still in existence. Though the purpose of this burial place is clear, the mystery attached to ancient Egyptian burial rites and beliefs and the enigma of the Sphinx make this a spiritual place today, especially for members of New Age religious groups.
Giza is a royal necropolis made up of massive tombs that reﬂect the majesty and supreme power of the pharaohs buried here. Architecturally, the pyearamids of Giza are the high point of pyearamid building, the ﬁnest examples of more than a hundred such tombs in Egypt and Nubia. At Giza are the tombs of the great Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu), the largest pyearamid at Giza, and his son and heir, Chephren, whose tomb is slightly smaller. Much smaller but still grand is the pyearamid of Mycerinus, son of Chephren. Cheops was the greatest pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty and an imperial power throughout the region. His son continued this tradition, but Mycerinus lost much royal power in squabbles with other grandsons of Cheops who claimed the right to the throne. Small pyearamids were built for three of Cheops’ wives, and a series of ﬂat-topped pyearamids holds the remains of his favorite children. At the end of a long causeway lined with minor tombs of court ofﬁcials, a ceremonial temple was built just to mummify the pharaoh’s body.
There are two kinds of pyearamid myths—those of fabulous hidden treasure and those about mystical powers. Since the Great Pyearamid is perfectly aligned to true north, south, east, and west, some argue that it has secret astrological meaning. The absence of any inscriptions has fueled speculation that there is occult or secret meaning in their dimensions, and many numerologies “prove” that the dimensions reveal secrets or can predict the future.
Ain't you wanna be there?
Gore´e Island, Dakar, Senegal
Slave Depot? Well, arguably the most famous of all African slave trade centers, Gore´e Island lies two miles off the port of Dakar, Senegal’s modern capital. Its peacefulness belies its bloody history. The main purpose of its 1,000 residents today is to preserve the memory of its slave depot and of the antislavery movement.
The House of Slaves was built by the Dutch in 1776, possibly as a place of detention before captives from the interior were shipped off to the Americas to be sold. After being kidnapped or captured inland by slavers, the men and women were force-marched to Dakar and taken out to Gore´e. There they were inspected, weighed, and priced like animals. Those under 130 pounds were sent to a feeding room to gain weight. Others were crammed naked and chained into tiny pens—twenty men in a seven-by-eightfoot room—where they stayed for an average of three months before a slave ship arrived for a new cargo. For children there was a separate tiny dungeon.
Conditions in slave depots were inhuman. The captives were given little food so that they were forced to ﬁght for it; in this way they were kept divided and unable to organize against their captors. Seawater was pumped into the cells so that the slaves stood or lay constantly in water. Women were routinely raped by their captors, and virgins were kept in a special cell to be available to ofﬁcials. Many slaves died. Those who survived were branded before being shipped off. Resisters were chained to the walls, and those who tried to escape were thrown out the exit to their deaths in the sea. This was the notorious “door of no return,” an opening at the end of a stone corridor; through this door Africans were led to ships taking them into slavery. Close to ﬁve million slaves were shipped through Gore´e. The House of Slaves was restored in 1990 and is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Besides being the site of the House of Slaves, Gore´e was the home of many prominent people. Free people of mixed race settled on the island, and many became prosperous traders. Gore´e also provided a place where free women of mixed blood (metis) could enter into business without prejudice because of their gender. Ironically, many of these women, whose mothers had been slaves, became slavers themselves.
The home of Anne-Marie Javouhey, a progressive nineteenth-century French nun who fought for the emancipation and education of Africans, is maintained as an antislavery memorial. There is also a museum in a nearby fort.
In recent years, the validity of Gore´e’s claims to have been a major slave port has been challenged by scholars of the slave trade.
Got Kwer, Migori, Kenya
Got Kwer, a small town in the heart of the Luo nation in northwest Kenya, is the home of “Calvary,” the headquarters and chief shrine of the Legio Maria Church. The Legio Maria began in a Catholic lay movement, the Maria Legio (“Legion of Mary”), brought by Irish missionaries in the 1930s. It was a main instrument of Catholic evangelization among the Luo, Kenya’s second-largest tribe.
The headquarters and shrine are at the New Jerusalem, “Calvary” in Got Kwer. Simon Ondetto’s family home, and he is buried there. It is a long, cloth-covered stone block. Various devotional articles surround it, typically Catholic—rosaries, crosses, and the likes. Legio belief is that the bigger the item the greater its spiritual power, and so these are quite large.
Considering a visit? The entry to Got Kwer is guarded by “checkers” in bright gowns of yellow and blue. The visitor removes his shoes and kneels in front of them while they sniff around him to detect the presence of either good or evil.
After being allowed to enter, the visitor or pilgrim kneels again before the ﬂag in the courtyard and then before the church itself. One kneels throughout the service, except for the sermon. There are no pews or chairs, but people assemble on the ﬂoor. Most Legio members will be dressed in white gowns, a few in yellow, blue, or pink. The service is conducted in Latin, with the sermon in the local language.
Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Once the capital of a large African empire, Great Zimbabwe is an abandoned city, at its height home to thousands of inhabitants and a sacred city to its Shona-speaking people. It is an enclosed compound of about 1,800 acres, with granite walls towering more than ﬁfteen feet. Its rise as a political center was probably due to the gold deposits in the area, although there were iron mines as well. By the time that Portuguese explorers came upon Great Zimbabwe in the 1600s, it was reported to had already been abandoned.
Great Zimbabwe became the religious center for the region, which was practiced in caves and small enclosures. There the high god was petitioned for rain and protection. Meanwhile, the name “Great” is said to distinguishes it from some two hundred lesser “zimbabwes,” or sacred enclosures, found throughout the region. Its cultural importance has embroiled it in controversy, political conﬂict, and racism. The modern nation of Zimbabwe takes its name from it, and the national symbol, the Zimbabwe Bird, comes from Great Zimbabwe.
In 1986 it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. However, wouldn't you rather pay a visit?
Mount Kenya, Kenya
Mount Kenya, a volcanic cone, is the second-highest mountain in Africa after Kilimanjaro, sacred to several peoples. Mount Kenya, the “mountain of brightness,” according to the Kikuyu people of East Africa, home of Ngai and the place where Ngai ﬁrst created humanity. Mount Kenya's three peaks—Lenana, Nelion, and Batian—reportedly range from 16,355 to 17,058 feet and are named after the three leading laibons, or prophet healers, who ruled the Maasai people in the nineteenth century.
As part of the centuries-long great migrations across Africa, the Kikuyu, a Bantu people, arrived at Mount Kenya’s base in the seventeenth century, where they came together with Hamitic and Nilotic tribes. The Maasai, Embu, Meru, and Kikuyu all worship the mountain as the home of their high god, Ngai, creator of the world. Apart from the mountain, they worship under special trees that represent it. Some climb Mount Kenya to commune with their god. A few Kikuyu mystics climb the mountain barefoot, despite the fact that the ascent is more difﬁcult than any major Alpine peak. The Maasai believe that their nation descended from the ﬁrst hunters, who came down from the mountain.
The mountain has continued to have special meaning in the life of the Kikuyu. During the Mau Mau rebellion against British colonialism in the 1950s, the guerrillas, mostly Kikuyu, took refuge in the forests of Mount Kenya, where they trusted Ngai to protect them. Before raids they offered sacriﬁces on the side of the mountain. Mount Kenya also represents freedom to the Kenyan people. On the eve of independence in 1963, Kenyan climbers raised the new ﬂag on the summit at midnight to proclaim the new country. A perfect place to be!
Kasubi Tombs, Kampala, Uganda
Just outside Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, lie the royal tombs of the Buganda kings, the Muzibu-AazaalaMpanga. It is the most sacred site of the Buganda people and is a symbol of nationhood embraced by Christians as well as animists.
The shrine itself is circular, 102 feet across and twenty-three feet high. It is constructed of wood, wattle, and thatch and modeled on the former palace of the kings. The thatch reaches down to the ground, forming a low mound effect. The roof is supported by massive poles wrapped in bark cloth, which takes its signiﬁcance from the fact that bark cloth is used to wrap bodies for burial. The space is portioned off by huge sheets of bark cloth. The ﬂooring is a layer of lemon grass and palm leaves, which are replaced regularly. The four royal tombs themselves are situated behind the bark-cloth divider. Here royal ceremonies are conducted at the new moon and mediums are consulted. Entrance to the tomb area is limited to the present kabaka, the widows and royal family, the current katikiro (a chief advisor of the kabaka), and the kabaka’s ofﬁcial sister, the Nalinya. She is the ofﬁcial administrator of the tombs. Two of the four kabakas who are buried at the tombs were brought back from exiles where they had been sent during the British colonial era. The royal children are also buried at the site, behind the Tombs.
Since 2001, the Kasubi Tombs have been listed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. It is a classic of Ganda architecture, culture, and life. In March 2010, the Tombs were destroyed by ﬁre, an event that caused demonstrations that broke out into riots with several deaths. National leaders calmed the crowds and promised prompt rebuilding. A period of national mourning was declared. Though the actual tombs were not damaged, tension continues between the national government and the Baganda, one of four kingdoms in Uganda. A place to worthy of being!
Abu Mena, Egypt
One of the most revered saints of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Abu Mina was an early martyear whose tomb is the major pilgrimage site for the Copts in Egypt. According to legend, he was a soldier, but after his conversion, he went into the desert to strengthen himself spiritually. Emerging after two years, he went to the public circus and openly professed his faith and was whipped, tortured, and beheaded around the year 300 CE. Supposedly, his body was taken on a camel to the desert after a vision given the Coptic Pope. Where the camel stopped, the saint was buried. Where the camel stopped, ninety springs of water gushed forth. Ironically, it is the high water table that today threatens the complex.
Two centuries later, the tomb was forgotten, but a shepherd boy had his sick lamb cured when he passed that way.
Soon the devout began coming to the spot, and after the daughter of the Byzantine emperor was cured of leprosy, it became a healing shrine. Mina appeared to the girl in a dream and revealed the location of his body, and the emperor ordered a church to be built. Pilgrims came from all over the Mediterranean basin, and clay oil ﬂasks with the saint’s image have been found as far away as Russia.
The shrine was destroyed by the Persians in 619 and rebuilt. When the Arab invasion took place later, the town that had sprung up was destroyed and the church vandalized, but the ﬂow of pilgrims never ceased. Finally, in the thirteenth century, the shrine was abandoned and reclaimed by the desert.
Mina is a healing saint, and the Copts record many miraculous cures. He was also an accessible saint; a charming sixth-century icon shows Christ with his arm affectionately around Mina’s shoulders. In its heyday, the shrine complex included several large basilicas, a monastery, pilgrim hostels, and a bathing complex. Here the pilgrims washed in the healing waters from the springs. There were also bunks near the tomb, since it was thought that sleeping near the relics of the saint invoked his healing power. A cemetery allowed the deceased to rise with the saint on the last day.
In 1959, Coptic Pope Cyearil IV, whose monastic name had been Mena, requested 100 acres of land near the ancient ruins of Mariut and began constructing a large monastery. The church was built on the pattern of the ancient shrine, with seven altars. It houses the tomb of the saint. The monastery fronts the church, which stands out with its twin towers. It was built with Italian marble and pink and white granite from Aswan and contains ﬁne stained-glass windows. In 2005 the church was raised to the rank of cathedral. Today it is a major pilgrimage destination drawing thousands of the devout. Monks from the monastery guide visitors to the tomb and around the ancient ruins.
The monastery complex was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
The Great Mosque at Kairouan is the oldest Islamic place of prayer in North Africa and is popularly regarded as the fourth holiest in Islam, after Mecca, Jerusalem, and Medina. For many Muslims for whom the Hajj (the pilgrimage to the holy places of Mecca and Medina) is an impossible dream, Kairouan serves as a substitute. Local Islamic tradition taught that seven trips to Kairouan was equal to making the Hajj.
Nothing remains of the original 670 CE mosque. But its successor, the Great Mosque or Sidid Oqba, which dates from 863, is still one of the leading holy sites of Islam. It is rectangular, approximately 400 by 240 feet.
The city is also known for several zaouia, or mosques containing the tombs of important saints. The ﬁrst of these is the Zaouia of Sidi Amor Abbada, an eccentric prophet whose revelations are inscribed on huge tablets around his tomb, itself massive and impressive. The most important tomb, however, is the Zaouia of Sidi Sahbi , which draws more pilgrims than even the Great Mosque itself.
The holiest times for visiting Kairouan are Ramadan, the month of fasting and self-discipline, and the feast of Mouloud al Nabi, which has a special following in Kairouan. This is the birthday of the Prophet and is celebrated with feasting and dancing.
Touba is a holy city to an important Islamic Suﬁ order, the Mouride Brotherhood, and is governed completely by them. The city (population about 300,000) is exempt from most Senegalese government authority and does not even appear on ofﬁcial maps.
Near the mosque, directly on a line toward Mecca, lies the cemetery, where the pious believe that burial assures entry into Paradise. At its center is a massive baobab tree, chosen by Bamba as the place for the burial of his ﬁrst wife, whose death shortly after the foundation of Touba is regarded as the sacriﬁce that consecrated the city. Pilgrims carve their names on the trunk of the baobab to insure that they will be counted among the saved whom Amadou Bamba will lead into Paradise on the Last Day.
The residential areas are organized around the center and usually feature some place associated with Amadou Bamba, such as a spot where he received a vision. Several have sacred trees that are held in veneration. On the outskirts of Touba is a demonstration farm to teach modern agriculture and reinforce Amadou Bamba’s teachings about selfreliance.
Isis Temple, Pilae, Egypt
Philae in Greek means “the end” and refers to the location of the Isis Temple at the southernmost border of Egypt. Its temple was dedicated to the goddess Isis, wife of Osiris and mother of the god Horus. The myth tells the story of Osiris’ death at the hands of Seth, who dismembers him. Isis gathers the fragments and reunites them, and Horus is born to the couple. He grows up to avenge his father by facing Seth in combat and killing him. Isis is shown in Egyptian art crowned with a throne. As mother of Horus and the one who resurrects Osiris, she is goddess of eternal life. Philae was revered as one of the burial places of Osiris.
The temple is one of the ﬁnest examples of an ancient Egyptian worship center. In its present form it is largely intact. It is approached by the river, as it was in its original location, and broad stone steps lead to a wide forecourt leading to the main entrance. Two rectangular pylons (150 feet x 60 feet) feature incised pictographs of the three divine persons and Ptolemy XII. Reﬂecting the pantheism of the Romans, who liked to incorporate the gods of their occupied peoples into their pantheon, there are scenes of Emperors Tiberias and Caesar Augustus. Inside the inner sanctum of the Temple, where the statue of Isis once stood, are inscriptions and incisions showing Egyptian pharaohs and Roman emperors taking part in ritual offerings to the goddess.
All the Nubian monuments, including Philae, have been listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 1979.
Moria, South Africa
The pilgrimage and healing center of one of the most important African religion movements is located in the north of South Africa, in the Province of the Transvaal, at the religious settlement of Moria. It is sometimes called Morija, but it is not to be confused with the town of that name in Lesotho.
There are so many acknowledged holy places in the world that it is impossible to mention them all here. Others includes Ekuphakameni, South Africa; Ugandan Martys’ Shrines, Uganda and more.