Koutammakou, Land of the Batammariba
Benin and Togo
The Batammariba name, used by the Batammariba people of Benin and Togo, means “those who are the real architects of earth,” pointing to the foundational place of earthen construction traditions for Batammariba society and culture.
The Koutammakou cultural landscape located in Togo became a World Heritage Site in 2004. However, there is little information about the quantity, type, or condition of cultural assets in the parts of Koutammakou located in Benin.
To raise awareness of the need to spotlight and preserve their living cultural traditions, the land of the Batammariba was included on the 2020 World Monuments Watch. In November 2020, WMF began a project to document traditional settlements in Koutammakou, the basis for a potential transboundary World Heritage Site across Togo and Benin.
The Yemrehanna Kristos church and associated palace structure are located inside a large natural cavern on a hill in northern Ethiopia, predating the famous nearby rock-hewn churches of Lalibela by almost a century. They represent some of the best preserved late Axumite style buildings in the country.
Yemrehanna Kristos was included on the 2014 Watch to raise awareness of this little-known wonder, highlighting the site’s historical and cultural importance and drawing attention to its deterioration due to structural instability, dirt accumulation, and environmental exposure.
Between 2015 and 2017, WMF implemented a project to conduct documentation and condition assessments at the site along with a technical examination of the plasterwork and interior painting decorations.
Bandiagara Escarpment Cultural Landscape
A sandstone ridge rising some 1,640 feet above the parched sands of southern Mali, the 95-mile-long Bandiagara Escarpment has served as a cultural crossroads for more than 2,000 years. Today, more than 200 Dogon villages, composed of mud-and-thatch dwellings, occupy the lower reaches of the rock face and valley.
Encroachment of the modern world and uncontrolled tourism are taking their toll on both Dogon culture and the escarpment itself in the form of inappropriate development.
After the World Heritage Site’s inclusion on the 2004 Watch, WMF supported the development of a management plan for its preservation and later financed the conservation of the Arou Temple, one of the oldest and most complete Dogon religious structures.
Between the late 1600s and 1807, Bunce Island’s fortified British trading post and ancillary buildings served as an international trading center and the pass-over point in Sierra Leone for commercial ships transporting enslaved people to the West Indies and North America.
Bunce Island was included on the 2016 Watch in recognition of the site’s historic and social significance, which transcends national and regional boundaries. Its inclusion bolstered the site’s visibility as one of the most important heritage sites in West Africa.
Between 2016 and 2020, WMF conducted a project to stabilize a large section of standing ruins, raise awareness through educational outreach and community engagement, and train local craftspeople to ensure Bunce Island lives on as an important cultural memorial of Africa’s relationship with the U.S.
Historic Sites of Kilwa
Located in southeastern Tanzania on adjacent islands in Kilwa Bay, the World Heritage Site of Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara are evidence of international maritime trade between the cities of coastal East Africa and the Gulf, Western Europe, and East Asia, dating as far back as the 11th century.
WMF’s conservation of Kilwa Fort revealed that the impact of sea level rise could be reduced by slowing the tidal flow through the growth of mangroves. WMF’s project later expanded to include the conservation of 13 structures across Kilwa Kisiwani and Songo Mnara.
Takiyyat Ibrahim al-Gulshani
The Sufi lodge of Sheikh Ibrahim al-Gulshani was the first religious complex established in Cairo, Egypt following the Ottoman conquest in 1517, and the first to be named a takiyyat in its foundation deed. The site is comprised of residences, retreat cells, a small mosque, a communal kitchen, shops, and a domed mausoleum set on a raised courtyard where rituals and public gatherings took place.
In 2018, WMF began a project to document the site and plan for its reuse, monitoring, and maintenance as an example for the restoration of other monuments in historic Cairo. Through training local artisans, the project encourages stakeholders to see heritage preservation as a catalyst for social change.
The ruins of the city of Great Zimbabwe, the monumental capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, is one of the most emblematic places of the world’s architectural heritage. The site is the largest of over 300 dry stone walled structures in southern Africa and stands as the largest single structure to have been constructed in prehistory in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Included on the 2016 Watch, Great Zimbabwe faces the long-standing threat of uncontrolled vegetation growth, affecting the stability of the dry, stone walls.
In addition to raising awareness of these threats and building knowledge of the proper removal of invasive plants on-site, WMF started a project in 2008 to improve methods of controlling the vegetation; implement a monitoring system to measure movement in the most vulnerable wall sections; and train local partners in dry-wall conservation.
In the Amhara Region of Ethiopia, a remarkable complex of 11 churches was handcarved some 800 years ago out of solid volcanic rock. Interconnected by deep trenches and subterranean tunnels, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are a living heritage site and the most important place of pilgrimage for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians.
Focused on preventing further deterioration of these fragile structures, the first phase of WMF’s work at the site began in 1966 in collaboration with UNESCO, and was halted in 1972 when Haile Selassie was overthrown. It would be another 35 years before WMF returned to Lalibela.
By establishing a permanent team to maintain the site and building the capacity of local residents to carry out preservation work, WMF was able to protect the churches while providing a livelihood for Lalibela residents.
WMF celebrates African world heritage and its rich variety of historic and cultural sites every day through our work, ensuring these treasured places are adequately represented and continue to inspire communities everywhere.
Meet some of our partners in Africa and learn about what its heritage means to them in this 2019 slideshow.
WMF is grateful for support of these projects from funders including the U.S. Department of State’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) and American Express.