World Monuments Watch
Suakin Island, Sudan

2006 World Monuments Watch

Thought to have been the Roman port of Evangelon Portus mentioned by Ptolemy, Suakin Island on the Red Sea began to attract Arab traders in the tenth century. By the fifteenth century, it had become a key mercantile center for Mamluk Egypt, attracting Venetian and Indian merchants, who traded there until the Ottoman invasion of 1517. It was during the Ottoman occupation that many of the distinctive coral buildings for which the island is known were built. Although the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 briefly revived trade in and around Suakin, prosperity was not to last; the island was all but abandoned with the opening of Port Sudan in 1922.

By 2006, when it was included on the Watch, too few residents remained on Suakin to maintain the island’s historic coral and stone buildings. Many of the buildings had, over time, fallen into ruin as a result of water infiltration and exposure to corrosive airborne salts that damaged wooden elements of doorways and windows.

Since the Watch

In 2008, the Turkish government announced its intention to help restore historic Ottoman architecture on Suakin Island through the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency. During the following years, conservation works were carried out on the island’s Hanafi and Shafi'i Mosques, as well as the old Customs Complex. The completion of the $9-million renovation project was marked with a re-opening ceremony in June 2014. In June 2016, ICCROM-ATHAR and the Government of Sudan announced a project to restore the rest of the old town. Conservation works will be implemented primarily along the pilgrimage routes to Mecca and the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem that traverse the island. The project will emphasize capacity building for local stakeholders and will provide new employment opportunities for community members. 

Last updated: July 2017.

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