Explorations, culture, nature

The Extended East  Route is the African part of the Silk Route

The recent recovery of two coins dated respectively 1080 and 1040 AD from Harla, the great ancient town near Dire Dawa poses an interesting question.

How come coins from inner oriental China ever got there, about a thousand years ago? One thing we deduce for sure: as people do not in general walk around for centuries with coins in their pockets, Harla is about a thousand years old, refuting a previous French dating to the 15th century AD. The coins were found by peasants in superficial soil.       Original and design by Cherinnet Tilahun, first North Song coin identified in Harla

In 1949 J.J.L. Duyvendak had pointed out to Zheng-He travels, in his "The Chinese Discovery of Africa", Richard Pankhurst cites a number of Axumite coins recovered betweend India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

"There was a road that went through Eritrea and to the port of Azab and Adule                              conducted trade with the Far East, Greece, Egypt and India.                                                                  This trade consisted of commodities such as ivory, gold, rhino horn, hippo hides and teeth, wild animals, frankincense, Nubian emeralds and slaves. The trade was wide and varied and skills employed in the manufacture of these goods were
extensive. There were imports of silk, cotton, swords, wine glasses, silver
and gold which were manufactured into plates as well as the creation of
large gold and bronze statues. Trade links existed with Kush, Egypt, the
Roman Empire, the Mediterranean Basin, Arabia, India, Sri Lanka and
China. Again the skills and knowledge employed to make these links
possible was enormous. This was a world which was connected and which
carved out and developed trade routes some of which still are in existence
today. The Straits of Bab al-Mandeb was one of the three major shipping
routes of the ancient world. Ethiopia was the first country in the world to
mint a coin with a Christian symbol and the second country in the world to
adopt Christianity as its state religion."

Richard Pankhurst in R. Hopkins, "Trade".

It is no novelty that by the year one thousand the world power, China, had little or no interest in Europe. Three centuries before the celebrated Marco Polo voyages, China was instead, it would now appear, extensively trading with the African oriental coast. Much as it is today.

A 'treasure' including 105 pieces of gold coins from inner India was found, specularly, in the Debre Damo Monastry mountain fortress grounds.

Sada Mire, archaeologist, head of antiquities in the Somaliland Government, Hargeysa and a lecturer at the London SoAS, has found around seventy towns and trade posts that cover the north Somalia coast and point inland to eastern Ethiopia. Interestingly, she has also found beautiful Ming blue pottery shards and more ancient Chinese pottery in a sea port excavation.

  Sada Mire, Somalia's only archaeologist, a very active one. Ahmoud town ruins, now collapsed

In October 2010 came news of an equally significant discovery. A team of Kenyan and Chinese archaeologists unearthed a small 15th century Chinese brass coin on Kenya’s northern coast.

According to Professor Qin Dashu of Beijing University, that type of coin was minted between 1403 and 1424 and carried only by envoys of Emperor Chung Zu. He surmised that the recent find was brought to the coast as a gift from the emperor – almost 100 years before the arrival in the region of the first European.

The coin, which came to light during a US33 million three-year expedition funded by Beijing University, follows the netting by Kenyan fishermen of 15th century Chinese vases and DNA confirmation of a long-held belief that some local villagers have Chinese ancestry.

Conjecture links such fragmentary evidence of a distant Chinese presence in East Africa with the exploits of the Chinese admiral Zheng He, who is said to have taken an enormous fleet of ships across the Indian Ocean in 1418. The voyages are thought to have been attempts to increase recognition and trade for the Ming Dynasty.

Indeed, the DNA testing, carried out in 2006, was part of an event celebrating the 600th anniversary of Zheng He’s first voyage and the larger aim of the joint archaeology project is to discover the remains of one of the admiral’s ships, said to have sunk off the Kenyan coast.

No one knows how far Zheng He got. The Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama, who arrived in 1499, was traditionally credited with being the first foreign trader to open up East Africa and laying the foundation of more than five centuries of European colonial power. 

‘We’re discovering that the Chinese had a very different approach from the Europeans to East Africa,’ archaeologist Herman Kiriama from the National Museums of Kenya told the BBC.

‘Because they came with gifts from the emperor, it shows they saw us as equals.’ A good start, after 500 years of Chinese absence on the African Coast.

                                                                                               Statue of Admiral Zhng He

As DNA of Kenya Fang Mao Fishermen has been proven to show a Chinese descent, the DNA of an 'Argobba' man we collected from Aliyu Amba, Ethiopia, has distinctively proven him to be of Arab blood. We are at present collecting a set of further samples.(Fulvio Cruciani, Rome Darwin Institute, personal communication).

In 1414, an emissary from the town of Malindi, in modern day Kenya, paid a visit to the Chinese royal court. Ancient Chinese texts also testify that Admiral Zheng He visited thrice the Sultan of Malindi, the most powerful ruler on the Kenyan coast at the time.

Chinese ceramics and coins have also been found in the ruins of The Great Zimbabwe civilization, an extensive indication of the commercial relations that once existed between Eastern and Southern Africa and the Chinese empire.

We are convinced further Archaeological exploration along the Extended East Route between Ethiopia and Somaliland, concentrating on recently highlighted towns like Harla, Gendabello, Bia Woraba and more on the Somaliland side, with particular attention to marine archaeology in the ports of Berbera, Zeyla and along the Somali North Coast will yield amazing discoveries.

Bringing us to the proof we still need: the Extended East Route we are promoting for the Abyssinian Highlands to the Somali and Djibouti coasts is the inner treasure of the most extensive trade route ever, the African Silk Route.  

    The newly found SILK ROUTES to Africa

 Transasia trade routes, 1st century AD.

                                                                                                         Marco, 28/01/2011

A Knowledge-Centred Approach to the Somali Cultural Emergency and Heritage Development Assistance, Somaliland

An abridged version of a POWERFUL Sada Mire publication, ORIGINAL

Somalia has suffered a civil war since early 1991. Systematic looting, destruction and illicit excavation of sites continue without the international community (including academics, government organisations, heritage workers and humanitarian aid organisations) acknowledging this problem, let alone addressing it. The pre-war approaches to Somali cultural heritage lacked awareness-raising initiatives and basic dialogue with local communities, and hence remained uninformed about local views and methodologies regarding heritage. This has resulted in a lack of interest in building a local foundation and infrastructure for heritage management and archaeological research in the country. Today, it is clear that no measures were taken to protect cultural heritage during two decades of armed conflict in Somalia. Recently, archaeological material has become the target of ideologically motivated destruction. However, in post-conflict Somaliland, a self-declared, de facto country where there is peace and stability, possibilities for protection and management of cultural heritage exist. In order to carry out such work, an understanding of local practices is necessary. Hence, this paper presents unique research into local heritage management strategies and unveils indigenous heritage management methods, which the author refers to as the knowledge-centred approach. This approach emphasises knowledge and skill rather than objects, helping cultures such as the Somali, with strong oral transmission of knowledge, preserve their cultural heritage even in times of armed conflict. Also, this paper presents a critical assessment of the Somali cultural emergency as a whole and suggests ways of assisting different stakeholders in the protection of Somali heritage in the conflict and post-conflict eras.

Keywords  Somali cultural heritage management – Knowledge-centred approach – Archaeology – Emergency – Development – Somaliland


Archaeology as a discipline can help create understandings of the past that enable us to make better decisions about our future in many fundamental aspects (social, cultural, natural, scientific and environmental). Today many people throughout the world subscribe to archaeology in some way, perhaps to understand how and why we have come to be where we are and to appreciate the dynamic historical context(s) that nurtured changes in people's everyday lives. On the African continent, archaeology has demonstrated that humankind started in Africa and that some of the world's oldest civilizations are found on this continent. Yet many people in Africa are still unaware of the significance of archaeology. I have noticed that Somalis are often skeptical about archaeological work. The main question is, why should the past matter to Somalis?

In general, archaeologists have difficulties justifying investment in archaeology. When it comes to war zones, the protection of cultural heritage is even less of a priority. 

In more developed parts of the world, countries have adopted the notion of heritage management and its potential impact on sustainable development. Should cultural heritage remain only something for the privileged countries where matters of peace, security, food and health have been largely overcome? At the same time, why should Somalis, many of whom are still at war with each other, start preserving and protecting their heritage? And why should the international community get involved in such processes in conflict and post-conflict contexts? The answers to these questions may be found in the nature of the Somali past.

Geographically, Somalia is bordered by Djibouti and Gulf of Aden to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, Kenya to the south and Ethiopia to the west (see Fig. 1). Somalia itself has been divided into three parts since 1991 which the official map does not reflect: Puntland, Somaliland and Somalia (south-central). Somaliland is a stable break-away region with its own government that seeks international recognition as an independent nation-state. Puntland, located in the easternmost part of the Horn of Africa, is a semiautonomous, relatively peaceful region, although troubled by piracy. South-central Somalia still suffers lawlessness and a two-decade-long ongoing war.
Fig. 1 Map of Somalia and Somaliland. Courtesy of Current World Archaeology

There are archaeological sites that testify to the historical significance of the Somali territory and its potential for contributing to understanding central issues in regional history and our global human past. Early works that suggest the archaeological significance of this region include investigations of lithic traditions and prehistoric cultures of the Horn of Africa (Clark 1954), as well as ruined towns and trade links (Curle 1937). The rock-art sites of Laas Geel (Gutherz et al. 2003), Karin Hagane (Brandt and Carder 1987) and Dhambalin (Mire 2008a) contribute to our knowledge about early pastoralism and subsistence economy in the Horn of Africa. The polychrome paintings of these sites include the earliest depictions of domesticated animals in Somali territory (see Fig. 2). The paintings at Laas Geel (see Fig. 3) and Karin Hagane portray predominantly cattle and to some extent resemble the bovine representations known from North Africa and the Nile Valley. The images demonstrate ritual symbolism and a distinct style of painting cattle and humans with stylized figures. The Dhambalin site offers paintings of sheep, the only known sheep depictions from Somali territory (see Fig. 4). Furthermore, Dhambalin displays hunting scenes with human figures and a range of wild fauna (Mire 2008a). Some of these paintings may date back to 5,000 years ago. There are also unprovenienced materials of what seems to be ancient Egyptian pottery, Pharaonic sculptures and alabaster work said to be looted from graves in Sanaag region. Other new discoveries in which the author was involved include sites at Hiis and Shal'aw on the Red Sea coast that provide evidence of relationships with Southern Arabia, North Africa and the Middle East....
This snapshot of archaeological sites, which demonstrates early trade contact with other civilizations thousands of years ago, indicates this region's potential to contribute to our understanding of the past not only locally but also globally. This suggests that there should be more stakeholders in the Somali past than just Somalis.
Fig. 2 Map of some important archaeological sites in Somalia

Fig. 3 Survey-officers Mahamed Abdi Ali and Ahmed Nuur Saalah during training with the Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) at the rock art site of Laas Geel

Fig. 4 Depictions of cattle and sheep at Dhambalin

This heritage, with such potential relevance for the world, is undergoing severe and irreparable destruction due to, among other things, looting. In the last 20 years, warlords have incessantly commissioned illicit excavations to finance the war, while poverty has led others to take up the looting and selling of artefacts (Abungu 2001; Brandt and Mohamed 1996; Mire 2007, 2008a). The result is one of the worst records of loss of archaeological remains in the Horn of Africa. Archaeology has become a source for local groups to exploit during these difficult conditions. However, it is noted that illicit trade in antiquities in Africa would not have continued to the extent it does without the demand for antiquities by privileged outsiders (Schmidt and McIntosh 1996; Brodie et al. 2001).

Furthermore, former Somali governments did not ratify the 1972 World Heritage Convention or the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict...

Previous Approaches to Somali Heritage

I have discussed elsewhere (Mire 2007) potential reasons behind the failure of Somali cultural-heritage preservation in the pre-war context. In particular, I have identified several approaches from different times in the last century that engaged with heritage without a significant dialogue with local communities. It was noted that an understanding of local heritage views did not seem to be part of strategies. In colonial times, unsystematic archaeological investigations took place and collections were moved outside of the country (e.g., Clark 1954; Curle 1937; Graziosi 1940). The Garesa Museum established in 1934 by the Italian administration was one of the major museums in sub-Saharan Africa (Museo della Garesa 1934). The collection included over 3,000 artefacts from all over Somali territory. This museum was by nature an ethnographic museum aimed at displaying the material culture of the Somalis from the colonial outsider's point-of-view. This is confirmed by the Italian exhibition publications such as Caroselli (1934) and the exhibition catalogue Museo della Garesa. After Independence this museum was left to deteriorate and the Somali authorities did not encourage curation of its content...

Furthermore, UNESCO consultants had put forward museum development plans (Mire 2007), yet these were neglected by the Somali government (M. A. Mohamed, personal communication, 18 March 2005; Posnansky 1979). In the 1960s and1970s, UNESCO commissioned reports on museum development in many parts of Africa and Africans were sent to training courses. However, Posnansky notes that “[B]y the late 1960s the situation in African museums had become quite desperate. Large numbers of personnel had received some training but most of it was inappropriate either because it was not designed for their own local conditions or because their museum infrastructure was unable to support the recommended procedures” (Posnansky 1996: 3)...

These approaches to Somali heritage and archaeology during colonial times and afterwards suggest the Garesa Museum and the UNESCO support for museum development were doomed to fail for a couple of reasons. First, the Somali government did not act on the UNESCO consultants' advice and recommendations since, it seems, the collections were not representative of the people's image of themselves (M. A. Mohamed, personal communication, 18 March 2005). Secondly, UNESCO itself was working without a dialogue with local communities. There was no infrastructure put in place for dealing with the notion of a museum and its local potential. Furthermore, archaeological research remained almost totally alien as very few locals were involved in it before the war.

The Knowledge-Centred Approach

My previous attempts to understand the neglect of Somali cultural heritage and the failure of its preservation have concluded that the current looting and destruction of Somali heritage is more or less a result of the ways that Somali material heritage was engaged with by the various actors mentioned above (Mire 2007). The little research undertaken before the war, mainly by outsiders, has had little effect on spreading archaeological knowledge through education and museums. I wanted to know what Somalis think of this neglect of tangible heritage, the loss of artefacts and sites to looting and destruction. The results of this research have been published elsewhere (Mire 2007), but the following discussion will reiterate several important points. Archaeology seems to be an alien topic to many Somalis. Archaeology per se was not of significance to them. When studying Somalis' views on cultural-heritage management and the significance of archaeological remains, I realised Somalis have their own perceptions of heritage, why it should be preserved and also how.


Oral communication and transmission of skills is still the main system of learning. Recently, use of mobile phones, which people all over Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland use due to the booming local telecommunication business (e.g., Telesom, Somtel, Nation-link, Dahabshiil), has taken electronic oral communication to unprecedented levels. Radio and television have also contributed to oral systems of communication. Many people are still illiterate, and therefore listening and talking play a more important role than reading and writing. It is not surprising that oral traditions and transmission of knowledge have survived in this part of the world, since not only do large parts of societies remain nomadic, but these societies are also selective about technology and promote oral communication technologies.

Using the Knowledge-Centred Approach in the Field

Previously, due to a lack of dialogue and understanding there has been a clash between this indigenous approach and best practices of heritage management and archaeological research, as world heritage policies have mainly focused on artefacts and monuments.

The knowledge-centred approach is a useful tool in terms of engaging local communities in cultural heritage management and archaeological research (Mire 2007). Professionals in Africa need to pay attention to local heritage management concepts and practices. It is therefore crucial to study these concepts and adopt them to complement our current best practices. My recent return to post-conflict Somaliland in 2007, where there is a new interest in heritage as a means of reconciliation and sustainable human development, was also an opportunity to test the knowledge-centred approach, particularly in the cultural landscapes and material culture of Somaliland.

By investigating locals' knowledge about the tangible and intangible heritage that surrounds them in Somaliland's different provinces, I was able to make use of the knowledge-centred approach and its main component of identifying local heritage and its views and practices. The best way to do this was to carry out interviews and outreach. Such work can be combined with archaeological survey and inventory of cultural properties. Before uttering our archaeological assumptions and presumptions (or our knowledge) it is important to start with an open mind and ask people what they think about a site, an object, a landscape, a feature in the landscape, a behaviour or an act. A second step is to consider this information and test its grounding in the cultural and local setting. By accumulating such insights one is allowing him/herself to learn something new, whether a point of view or a practice. It shows humility on our part as specialists, and empowers the local population by displaying that our knowledge not only needs complementation, but also alteration and modification to allow synthesis and analysis to occur. This approach also allows local voices to be heard and local practices to be an integral part of our practice. This opens up the possibility of exchange and mutual appreciation between local people and the archaeologist or heritage worker. Before discussing details of projects making use of the knowledge-centred approach in Somaliland, it is important to note some critical obstacles in the protection of Somali cultural heritage and the emergency context of our work in conflict Somalia and post-conflict Somaliland.

Current Human and Natural Threats to Somali Cultural Heritage

What I term the Somali cultural emergency has existed since the civil war began. The preceding discussion noted the illicit trade of antiquities and looting of archaeological sites that have taken place in Somalia. Recently, Somali cultural heritage is in emergency due to ideologically motivated destruction of archaeological sites as well as prohibitions on the practice of certain cultural traditions. Political Islam has increasingly become a central aspect of the Somali conflict (Menkhaus 2002). There is a political threat against Somali traditional culture from groups advocating strict application of Sharia law. At the moment, there are different wars going on between Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, Sufi adherents and these new groups. Somalia's correspondent for the BBC, A. Mohamed (2009) noted that graves are being destroyed by members of radical Islamic groups. The Sufi sites and shrines being destroyed are sacred and often located in important pre-Islamic centres. These sites are part of sacred landscapes and centres for the annual commemoration of religious ancestors and lineage founders. Furthermore, Somali popular music and traditional performance art (dances and songs) are forbidden in the areas controlled by radical groups.

Regarding natural threats to Somali cultural heritage, the tsunami on December 26, 2005 devastated many Somali submerged coastal landscapes as well as the significant archaeological site of Ras Hafun. Yet Somalia was one of the few countries omitted from the ICCROM report on the damage caused by the tsunami (Endicott 2005, see document link in the bibliography). So far there has been no assessment of the damage inflicted by the tsunami on cultural heritage on Somalia's coast. However, brief assessment of such damage to Somaliland's archaeological sites such as Hiis, concluded that irreparable damage had taken place. In addition to the devastation felt by the current population of Hiis whose houses were destroyed, archaeological sites and materials were either covered by sand or washed away. Other environmental issues devastating Somali heritage include desertification. As a result of the latter, sand dunes have a great impact on the conditions of many sites, including the rock art sites of Somaliland (Mire 2008a).

Archaeological Responsibility in Times of Armed Conflict

Lawlessness in Somalia has paved the way for international criminals to act with impunity in the country. I have been made aware of criminals taking advantage of this chaos, not only by commissioning illicit digging and illicit fishing as I witnessed in Somaliland, but also by dumping toxic waste in Somali waters. On top of this, severe poverty and prolonged droughts threaten all Somali regions. Archaeologists, like environmentalists and other specialists, should feel a responsibility to intervene when international agreements and regulations are being violated. Archaeologists who found themselves in war zones most often have left the country altogether or simply ignored the problems rather than dealing with the ethical issues they raise. As noted by Pollack, although mentioning the recent and few attempts by major archaeological organisations to tackle ethical issues in archaeology in war zones, “none of these organizations offers any guidelines or suggestions regarding appropriate practices in wartime contexts…” (Pollack 2008: 357–358). Archaeologists have recently highlighted the ethical roles of an archaeologist active in conflict countries (Hamilakis and Duke 2007; Meskell and Pels 2005). If ethics and politics are inseparable (Hamilakis 2009), political awareness and ethical archaeology come with a price; the archaeologist will have to make a choice. Others dealing with heritage management in conflict situations (Yahya 2008) have highlighted the potential archaeology holds to facilitate understanding of the past which different groups can appreciate.

In Somalia and Somaliland, dealing with archaeology as a discipline is itself a political and ideological choice. Archaeology is alien as a topic and recently political voices are being raised against the subject. This threat is not only facing sacred shrines but also rock art sites, which many Somalis refer to as houses of the “devil.” Such figurative art is a prohibited form of art according to some fervent Muslims. Hence, publicly promoting and safeguarding these pre-Islamic sites is not seen as important by some religious groups. Also, within Islam, the ideas of radical groups and Sufi groups clash and lead to battlefield conflicts in southern Somalia and the destruction of sites of Sufi saints. Is it, then, my responsibility as an archaeologist to point out that such sites have important historical information to offer the world beyond their current ritual significance to some groups? One may argue that on the issue of ideologically motivated destruction of archaeological sites, it is crucial that archaeologists encourage knowledge of cultural heritage and the past that can promote cross-cultural understanding. Furthermore, archaeological heritage demonstrates diversity that has potential to engage the whole community and promote dialogue, which may foster mutual respect.

Recognising Cultural Heritage as a Humanitarian Emergency Issue

One important aspect that heritage professionals need to start discussing is treating cultural heritage as an emergency issue in conflict and disaster zones. Cultural-heritage support should be a humanitarian priority along with other priorities such as security, food and health. There are lessons to be learned from Somalia and its short history of archaeological research and heritage management. Very little effort has been made regarding preservation of Somali cultural heritage in the last five decades and these efforts have ultimately failed. This is evident from the ways that Somali cultural heritage and archaeological research have been pursued in colonial times and postcolonial times prior to the commencement of the civil war. The failure of these efforts is partly due to a lack of recognition of the significance of an appropriate dialogue between various groups who have an interest in the preservation of this heritage. It is also due to neglect of Somali cultural heritage, which has continued during the ongoing civil war. Consequently, Somali people are losing their only source of (pre)history. This has created an emergency equivalent to any other emergency in the sense that the society is losing an essential part of its existence. When ancestral shrines and grave sites are desecrated and sacred sites are destroyed, people experience a mental trauma. Cultural-heritage specialists can contribute to a reconciliation process in these situations. Managing cultural heritage hence is not only managing materials and monuments, but also providing support and guidance to the people who suffer mentally. This is something that cultural and heritage experts should offer. Heritage workers should plan support mechanisms for preparedness, response and recovery before, during and after emergencies. International organisations should also support people in a holistic way that includes cultural-heritage awareness and work alongside heritage workers in planning humanitarian actions.

Cultural Resource Governance and Development in a Post-Conflict Context: Somaliland

Somaliland has a nascent democracy and peace. Here, the main challenges are institution and capacity building, policy and strategy development. The Department of Antiquities is set up to manage cultural resources in Somaliland, and my task involves the initiation, implementation and development of heritage management strategies and programmes for sustainable development. This involves, among other things, cultural resource management for sites, monuments and museums. However, there are many emergencies in Somaliland and culture is but one of them. There is extremely little governmental funding available for the governance of culture. There is no cultural emergency response plan either. Cultural property in Somaliland is disappearing systematically due to uncontrolled development (new roads and growing cities) and continued severe looting. Severe poverty triggers the latter activities. The solution to the problem needs to be multiple, not only addressing education and awareness but heritage work also must aim to create economic opportunities for local people. The potentials of cultural heritage resources must be highlighted to the looters and it must be made explicit how future possibilities surrounding education, job opportunities and tourism can benefit them in the long term...

This work needs financial support and resources that are beyond what the Somaliland government can offer. Somaliland's lack of international recognition not only halts economic development in the nascent democracy, but also impairs the chances for fundraising for basic development projects that are acutely needed (Mire 2008b). Since Somaliland is not recognised by the UN, it is not eligible to ratify the UN convention. Also Somalia's failure to ratify the World Heritage Convention of 1972 means that Somali heritage, wherever it maybe in Somali territory (including Somaliland), is not entitled to support from UNESCO. Also, given the lack of national antiquities legislation, investment by UNESCO or other heritage organisations in potential World Heritage sites in Somali territory will most likely remain absent. Hence, it is imperative to develop antiquities laws for Somaliland which can form the basis for heritage protection. Somalia, being in a state of chaos, has no influence over Somaliland. Somali heritage in stable Somaliland faces a great dilemma in its urgent need for resources as long as Somaliland remains unrecognised by UN and its member nations. Therefore, there needs to be a joint effort for protection of the national heritage of Somaliland. This task calls for the cooperation of all relevant governmental and non-governmental, national and international agencies, educational institutions such as universities and the private sector.

Empowering Heritage Stakeholders

My work with the Department of Antiquities attempts to consolidate archaeological practice in the country under the control of a governmental body for the governance of cultural heritage. Setting up of the Department of Antiquities was the first step. This department is the authority that manages heritage and communicates its significance to the people of the country. The second step was to introduce the role of this department to all other government institutions and ministries in order to organise and pave way for legations. Also, one important task for the implementation of this agenda was to send a governmental delegation (led by myself) to regional and local centres as well as remote areas of archaeological interest. The task of this delegation was to explain the new policy in place regarding the practice of archaeology in the country. One other important education project was to talk with local people and hold seminars either near or at archaeological sites. Through this interaction with local people, many archaeological sites were placed under the supervision of prominent local individuals. However, these sites make up only a fraction of the known archaeological sites in Somaliland and many more sites need supervision. Furthermore, these measures are the bare minimum. Documentation, recording and conservation have yet to be implemented. However, challenges remain in terms of the lack of local individuals with heritage management and preservation training, as well as the lack of museums where collections could be held for protection, research or display.

Many people in Somaliland show great interest in cultural resource management and there is a need for trained archaeologists and heritage workers to work with them and study the history of the region together. Archaeology in Somaliland is in a very early stage. Working at sites here, we are creating local stakeholders since in many cases local people are not aware of the archaeological potentials of their area. Many people are not familiar with archaeology and only realise these potentials through our visits or “discoveries.” However, as soon as such work takes place, we often have many locals who volunteer to work on the sites with us and facilitate our work. Key in this early interaction is dialogue between the site, local people, researchers and the government organisation. This dialogue is encouraged within the safeguarding programmes that have been put in place. These programmes include the Local Education and Safeguarding Programme (LESP), the National Inventory List, the Archival Programme, the Archaeological Rescue Project and the Public Education and Heritage Awareness Media Programme.

Local Education and Safeguarding Programme

The Local Education and Safeguarding Programme aims to assist communities and government staff in acquiring basic knowledge of the significance, protection and preservation of cultural heritage. This programme provides crucial information for the protection of sites and monuments. In order to safeguard cultural heritage at the local level, it is crucial to engage with the local community. The LESP is based on and facilitated by the knowledge-central approach as a locally appropriate theoretical framework and our field officers are embedded in the local community. The first stage of the programme is to visit a site or landscape. By visiting a site or locating a site, we identify cultural property that needs attention. At this stage, we also identify particular groups or individuals who may have knowledge about and interest in the site. We note their views and general knowledge about the site. Our knowledge about the archaeology and the site's potential significances is also shared. Having established mutual interest and respect for each other's views and knowledge about the site we appoint a local person as a custodian of the site. The Department of Antiquities has recruited local people in various areas, particularly to safeguard the most prominent archaeological sites. The second stage of this programme is to provide capacity building for the staff and communities based in different areas of Somaliland.

In the Local Education and Safeguarding Programme, I give public presentations to the communities and organise tours around the local archaeological sites. These presentations are the first opportunity for the communities to engage in a discussion about their cultural heritage (see Fig. 5). The knowledge-centred approach is critical here, because acknowledging that the local people possess knowledge about their heritage and have ways of preserving it empowers them. They feel they are equals as we ask for their knowledge and perceptions. These local ideas are recorded and incorporated into the actual work taking place at the sites. They realise that ultimately what is important about the sites, objects and landscapes is the people and human history associated with it.
Fig. 5 Initiating cultural heritage debate within the local communities of Sanaag region

National Inventory List

When dealing with local heritage, it is important to identify sites with local knowledge and interest in mind. The knowledge-centred approach facilitates work in our investigation of what the locals see as significant heritage. Many times there are sites and features in the landscape that the archaeologist does not recognise as something important, such as mountains, springs or even trees. By observing and acquiring knowledge about their uses, we are able to recognise their importance. These seemingly unimportant landscape features are often more significant to the locals than some archaeological sites. In times of conflict we need to have this knowledge and be prepared to act to protect these sites. Particularly with regard to rituals sites, not many locals will want to discuss what they are doing at a particular site. For example, the Sufi saints' shrines are important for their adherents but not at all important for other religious groups. By empowering each group and taking on the responsibility to protect the heritage of all groups, we enable understanding and work on ways to avoid conflict or destruction.

When carrying out archaeological survey of selected areas of Somaliland provinces (from east to west: Sanaag, Togdheer, Saahil, Hargeysa and Awdal), local people are often involved in the initial creation of data about sites. The knowledge-centred approach is helpful in generating valuable discussion with local people about their cultural heritage and why there is a need for its preservation. The survey officers record histories and information about people who know something about sites and their functions.


When we carried out a survey at Old Amud, a ruined early mediaeval town in the western region of Somaliland, we realised that the site had been greatly damaged since it was first published. Comparing old images taken by Curle in 1937 with the current condition of the site, we noted that severe looting had taken place and that all stones of the superstructures were looted (see. Fig. 6). People have used stones from the ruined town to build their own houses in the last 70 years. By displaying such images, we were able to make people understand the devastation that their present removal of stones has on their heritage.
Fig. 6 Old Amud town 2007, looted on its stones Note: cfr. the preceding article photo! Nothing stands now!!

Also, we hold high-level meetings with ministers, MPs and representatives of UN agencies, NGOs and universities to raise awareness and generate wider discussion around the role of cultural resources in the development of post-conflict Somaliland. Such events and commentaries are often televised by Somaliland National News as well as international news agencies such as Universal TV, Voice of Africa and BBC Somali.

National Museums and Cultural–Educational Centres

Post-conflict Somaliland still lacks functioning museums. This factor contributes to the disappearance of artefacts. Potential collection and artefact repatriation projects as well as archaeological rescue projects are extremely challenged by this lack of storage and research space. Our current museum development process is halted due to the lack of vital resources and infrastructure. Museums are needed for storage, display, research, public education and activity centres. The material that is excavated or acquired in other ways should be safely kept in a protected space. The Hargeysa museum building still stands, although since the war it has been utilised as a hospital. At the moment, we are in the process of negotiating with the occupants and hope to find another place for them to work.

In Sanaag, there are a couple of cultural-educational centres. The Department of Antiquities has hired some of the local leaders of these educational centres. These are often older women who possess knowledge of the traditional art of the Somali (see Fig. 7). Here, we interview women about Somali cultural heritage and record their knowledge and skills. The women produce material culture which they can sell to generate their own income. They also teach others these skills and train children and young people in particular. Some of these women have become governmental staff and this authority empowers them in their daily work.
Fig. 7 A woman weaving Kabad at Cultural education centre in Sanaag

Locating Somali Antiquities Collections

The Department of Antiquities is considering opportunities to set up a virtual museum since there are many collections held outside Somali territory. Since the early twentieth century, Somali heritage has dispersed due to a lack of protection and storage facilities, among other things. Some of the work being planned includes locating artefacts and archaeological materials currently held outside Somali territories at various research and teaching institutions, as well as in private and public collections. The Department of Antiquities is aiming to start the process of identifying and subsequently cataloguing these foreign-based collections in cooperation with their various holders. We also intend to make use of the Diaspora and their skills and knowledge about Somali heritage.

Current Repatriation Campaigns for Looted Artefacts

In 2007, we initiated the repatriation of stolen antiquities to local communities in relevant areas of Somaliland. By working with local people and involving them in the protection of sites and in cultural heritage management, we enabled the repatriation of stelae stolen from burial sites. For example, decorated stelae were stolen from a burial near Buroe. The work involved tracing the items and bringing them back to the community and the custodians of the site. Through a local campaign by the Department of Antiquities, the elders of the village were notified about the loss of the stelae and made aware of the significance of the stelae. This notice prompted the elders to take up their own search for the stelae. The stelae were, in fact, on their way to Boosaso to be shipped to the Gulf and sold on the antiquities market, but the alerted elders tracked the grave robbers and brought the stelae back to the community. Although there are more examples of such local dedication, looting continues and our efforts and resources are not sufficient to tackle this severe problem.


Although the infrastructure for tourism is poor, there are enough sites in or near the larger cities of Somaliland to be visited by tourists. In particular, the rock art sites provide a ready resource for income generation through tourist activities. Somaliland receives cultural and environmental tourism, although in small groups. There is no need for substantial facilities for such small groups of tourists as long as there is protection and conservation awareness. At the most popular sites, we have put in place tourism-management measures. The economic and educational value that results from these tourist sites is important to the Somaliland government.

Furthermore, the natural landscapes as well as the nomadic life style attract many tourists to the region. However, there are also concerns over leisure hunting in which critically endangered species of wild animals including the rare wild ass (Equus africanus somaliensis) have been killed. Often tourists from the other side of the Red Sea have been associated with such acts, since most of these tourists come to the African side of the Red Sea for hunting.


The article has argued that a lack of dialogue and research into local perceptions explains why current best practices of heritage management, with their focus on monuments and objects, were not embraced by traditional societies of the Horn of Africa; Somali society places greater value on the preservation of knowledge and skill than it does on objects. Also, the study suggests archaeologists and heritage experts need to use their skills and knowledge to help emergency and disaster zones gain international support in dealing with the protection of their threatened cultural heritage. In emergencies, people suffer not only in their lack of access to security, food and health but also mentally through the loss of their homes, their valued belongings, their graveyards and their sacred sites. All of these inflict trauma. It is therefore crucial that the professional community considers the idea of cultural heritage as an emergency issue and it needs to speak up when such loss is taking place and have response and recovery actions in place. There is a need for archaeologists active in Africa in particular to investigate local heritage management practices. The knowledge-centred approach facilitates insight into the Somali context; we learn exactly what heritage is relevant to different local communities and why. Even before a conflict arises, this knowledge and understanding should be part of our preparedness and will enable us take informed actions to prevent potential destruction. A key factor in the prevention of human-made heritage disasters is dialogue between different groups and potential cultural diversity should be promoted and respected.

Also, there must be an effort to have cultural emergency preparedness and response in conflict zones. At the moment, there is no infrastructure for cultural emergencies in the policies of the international community in places like Somaliland and Somalia. Somaliland struggles to raise funds since is not recognised internationally and cannot access funds available to nation-states. The Government of Somaliland is struggling to finance non-priority issues related to culture. However, the fact that a country like Somaliland can still recognise the significance of its heritage and provide some funding for its protection and preservation is commendable. The international donor community should take this into consideration.

Somaliland provides a unique opportunity to test the knowledge-centred approach within communities. It also provides opportunities to study local heritage awareness, nascent tourism and how cultural emergencies can be dealt with in conflict and post-conflict contexts. This paper attempted to provide a platform for how to best engage different stakeholders in cultural heritage, taking into account local peoples' and businesses' interests regarding economic development, tourism and education, researchers' scientific investigations, and heritage practitioners’ roles in safeguarding and preserving this heritage for the future generations. The knowledge-centred approach has enabled me to engage with local people on an equal level. By acknowledging that they possess knowledge about their heritage and the past which is crucial for our work, they also feel empowered to take part and contribute their insights into many aspects of my work as a researcher and heritage practitioner.

                                                                                                     Sada Mire, Copyright Springer, © 2011

From Barara to the Indies

An historical and archaeological interpretation of the Extended East Route                                             for cultural tourism, stretching across East Ethiopia, Somaliland and Djibouti.

This brief study is composed of an introduction and a proposal to carry out a wide research in Ethiopian and North Somali medieval history, through a set of archaeological campaigns to understand better a minimally known period of great value. The proposal is centred on relationships to a new touristic route, applying action research methods. So that every finding means a new resource along the route and can become a revenue opportunity.


Ethiopia is truly the cradle of mankind, as a number of recent and less recent anthropological discoveries have shown.
The new project named the Extended East Route, a vast thematic tourism track covers well over 2000 km in the Ethiopian East, reaching Somaliland -for about twenty years a de facto separate and peaceful part of Somalia- and Djibouti. It approaches on the way all main areas where excavations have led to the conclusion modern man colonised our planet from sections of the present day Ethiopian Rift Valley. Sites like the Adar Valley and Melka Konture deserve particular attention, as a discerning, non invasive tourism will develop. This is already partly happening at least for the Melka Kunture site, only 55km south of Addis Ababa.
Homo erectus was shown there to have the same affections of the mouth and teeth present day sapiens, that is us, unfortunately have. Homo erectus remains there have been dated up to 1,7 million years ago. The Guinness book of records reports, since a couple of decades, a curious first: Melka Kunture was the site of the primordial recorded industry of size, as a fraction of all our erectus ancestors had at a stage gathered there around an obsidian field, working and trading it systematically. Finds in the afar triangle and around it continue at the hands of Ethiopian experts, now unsurpassed the world over, leading International teams to continuous discoveries of both australopithecines, Lucy-like erected creatures and Homo, unearthing the oldest known variants of our very species.

   The only Idaltu skull recovered, 160,000 years old, the Definite Proof, man evolved as sapiens in Africa

   An obsidian worked by Homo erectus, over 1 million year old, and the Melka Konture Open air Museum

At a much later stage -as the first sort of modern man, Homo Sapiens Idaltu dates over 170,000 years- definitely less than eight thousand years ago, a tribe from the Arab or Yemeni coast migrated to Ethiopia, bringing a culture and a religion expressed in over two thousand years old temples still standing, and many older artefacts. They, the Sabeans, venerated the moon, and had two-monthly festivals where sacred ibexes were slaughtered, and consumed in particular inebriating rites. Both venereal and manly symbols related to lions were found in the holiest of the Yeha temple.
Soon this civilisation was to apex in Axum, north of our Route, in the age of Christ. At that time, only Rome, Persia, Axum and China were minting in gold.
Axum had its ports in Metahara, Adulis and possibly in other Eritrea bays. To that sea, ‘mare erithraeum’ in the language of Rome, the red sea, was their trade interest, extending north to the Ancient World.
Subsequently, as Axum gradually declined, Ethiopian Middle Ages configured themselves as a time of particular prosperity, as trade flourished along a route largely coinciding with our proposed Extended East Route.
Venice and Genoa above others in divided Italy, Spain and Portugal, the Netherlands followed by Britain, France, Germany and Belgium were still far from embarking on their conquest spree dubbed as colonisation, a dark time for much of the planet. In 1250 or thereabouts Abyssinians, Somali and Arabs were permanent registered traders in the Melaka port, hearth of the Borneo Straits, and throughout the middle ages a global, multilingual community produced riches in trading, on equal terms along the vast shores of the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese first reached Melaka in 1509, boasted its riches, though by then largely reduced by the dwindling of trade with China, noted ‘he who holds Melaka holds the throat of Venice’, their archrivals, and had all but destroyed it by.. 1511, a few months later!
In the thirteen to the fifteen century the Ocean trades, which had probably originated in the time of Axum, had their climax. Culminating in seven epic voyages by Admiral Zheng He, at the service of the Ming Empire. He reached Africa four times, and a splendid Venetian map sees one of his ships passing the cape of Good Hope, mentioning an unsuccessful exploration lasted a couple of months towards West Africa. In 1420, eighty years before a route was opened by a noted Portuguese explorer.
Portuguese fighters, at the command of Vasco da Gama’s nephew Cristovão were over a century later to be decisive in a huge Ethiopian internal strife. A war saw the Islamic troops of Mohamed al Ibrahimi, from Hubat and Harar, under the Kundudo, challenge victoriously five successive Emperors of the Highlands over twenty years, ca. 1520 to 1543.
This civil war became an international conflict of influence in its time, as Emperor Gelawdos, living as a bandit in his territory with less than fifty followers received three hundred skilled Portuguese, and al Ibrahimi, the left handed, secured Ottoman protection in the form of experienced foremen and firearms. One of the brave Portuguese avenged his master, da Gama, on yet another field day otherwise disastrously lost.
At the death of al Ibrahimi his troops dispersed over just a few days. It was soon back to business as usual along the East trade route, but an impending new series of foreign powers were to limit Abyssinian sovereignty and trade access to the Ocean. Those flourishing ports on its coasts, let it be South of the Arab peninsula, along India or further east, were to be at the mercy of European, not African trade. Africa itself to be subdued later to the triangular commerce that brought African slaves as far as the ‘new Indies’, America.
Before that Abyssinian civil war, for a few hundreds of years the Somali coast had likely taken privilege over the Eritrean ports as the trade way for Ethiopian goods, such as those myrrh, frankincense and gold of biblical memory. And a main channel had not only developed over to the Indian Ocean, but had given birth to a string of trade towns.
The middle ages were the age of African wealth and Empires, both in the area of the Sahel and Ethiopia.
Emperor Kankan Moussa from Mali had brought so much gold on his hundreds of camels to Cairo on a pilgrimage to Makah the worth of gold dropped there and settled at lowly prices for thirty years. Two elderly gentlemen from my own town in northern Italy, the Castiglioni brothers explored recently large mines they claim could date to the trade via Eritrea to the Israel of old, and named them King Solomon’s mines.
Those precious quarries well to the west of our Route, mainly in the Beni Shangul State must have fuelled continuing trade and craftsmanship. ‘Arabi Faqii’, or Sihab ad-Din Admad ibn 'Abd-al-Qadir, the al Ibrahimi Yemeni chronicler, states twenty days were needed to recuperate all the gold from one single Church. It lied between Ambanegest, the fortress above, and Barara under. He reports every single Harari man with him had become considerably rich, with that single loot.
Barara was the great and fabulous capital of Abyssinia from 1435-40 ca. to 1530, the date of the noted episode of the civil war when it was destroyed, to be later occupied by transhumant Oromos.
Barara, lost even as a name or on local maps, was the siege where the Emperors dwelled, and concentrated wealth and power. Thanks to long fledging exchange routes, until now as mysterious as Barara itself.
Fauvelle Aymar, then head of the ‘Centre d’Etudes Franco Ethiopiens’ in Addis found in 2003-2004 three towns, one of which Prof. Ahmed Zacariah, a Harari scholar, knew of as Gendabello. The others are Asberi and Mesal. He used notes found by Cerulli, an Italian administrator, linguist and historian, mentioning a town where goods were passed from camels to mules. All three localities side the rift valley on the way up to the highlands. Roads, walls, houses and a mosque were studied, and Gendabello, or Nora, itself dated from excavations at the 13th century.

  An archaeologist, recognised by the French nose, in front of the Nora Mosque and the Asberi ruins

Those days came after the special period of Lasta and King Lalibela, the man who reproduced in the twelfth century an oneiric Jerusalem digging the turfs below Mt. Abune Joseph. That prominent volcano had inundated the area with pyroclastic rocks so good for carving he could have a twelve metres three storey church dug totally into them, including its accesses, tunnels , as well as twelve more churches. After many more churches had been carved in the Hauzen and Gheralta turfs, and three flat top mountains had been used as golden prisons for heirs to the throne, to avoid internal struggles, power shifted to southern Shoa as a Great Emperor built Barara.
Zara Yaqob retained power in Barara long enough to send for artisans in India and to Venice, like his predecessor Lalibela had quested for Syrian, or Jordanian and Palestinian craft for his feats.
His envoys to Venice reached at a time of great ferment and change, and were welcomed at a great Church conciliar meeting in Florence in 1440, with full honour, leading to his recognition as Prester John, a mythical figure whose quest had been instrumental in many European explorations.
I am convinced a string of towns, possibly fourteen or more in Ethiopia, and some eight to ten in Somaliland linked the highlands to the ports of Berbera and Zeila.

                                          The Abasa Mosque, Somaliland

I take the ninety or more years in which Barara was the Capital, in the 15th to 16th hundreds. South west of Barara lay Sire, on the escarpment further north the three towns identified by the French teams in the Ifat region, around Gendabelo. More trade posts must have lied on the Amhar mounts, though probably smaller, while around the Kundudo and Babile valleys were Bia Woraba, Samti Guey and six more.
The following two chapters propose a way to shed light on this medieval period, endowing the Extended East Route with the power its unique history has wielded, before that critical date: 1530, the destruction of Barara. After, the ports of the Ocean were no more for the Arabs or Abyssinians to trade in, rather, a conquest of the Europeans.

1- Barara Found

Or, possibly, very nearly found. Hartwig Breternitz, a passionate archaeologist then working for the African Union in a different capacity undertook three years ago a difficult task: finding it, and possibly other localities mentioned on the Fra Mauro Map. The 1459 cartographer’s masterpiece, around two metres in diameter, mentions for the first time a number of Ethiopian localities, overestimating the Empire, which appears on the map to cover all eastern and southern Africa.
This was a consequence of the interest aroused those years around Zara Yaqob’s envoys. Contacts with Venice were to continue, with visitors received in pomp in Barara, the famed painter Brancaleone setting up a noted school, exporting to Ethiopia Venice’s myth of St. George and being revered himself as half a Saint.
The map, and Google earth ever more detailed satellite views were Breternitz’s only tools, like mine. We both, without knowing each other, had had vital historic background information from Richard Pankhurst. Breternitz noted and published three sites. One is on Mount Wechacha directly above the westernmost new areas of Addis Ababa, two more are on Mount Yerer.

The Wechacha fortress walls, as we saw them on the Amba itself...

and from Google Earth

He concludes one of the sites is Sire, a town mentioned on ancient cartography. I can see it clearly in the Horowitz map, not on the one by Fra Mauro, while Barara cannot be unequivocally identified on the first. Sire to him coincides with a fortress on the east slopes of Yerer, not far from where Fascist Italy planned, and almost managed to carry out a singular, indeed rather absurd plan to relocate Italian peasants to a site named Migra, or Romagna d’Etiopia. He reports seeing plenty of artefacts lying scattered on the ground during his visit to ‘Sire’, no proper excavation has ben conduced.
The vicinity of both sites to Addis Ababa renders them ideal for excavations by our University, a formidable tool for Archaeology students too, Tekle Hagos from AAU observed.

Zuqwala, Barara and Ambanegest on the Fra Mauro Map. © Marciana Library. South is up, east and west are inverted

My attention was drawn by a later photo shot, appeared this year on googleearth. It shows a set of three walls extending for about 2,3 kilometres on Mt. Wechacha. Without knowing Breternitz’s publication, I located and visited twice the Wechacha site he had published already. Once with noted Ethiopian Archaeologist Tekle Hagos and other staff and students from Addis Ababa University, including the vice president of the African Geological society, friend Asfawosen. We noted the structures, classified by mistake on maps as rock outcrops, were ancient walls. Easily attributed by historic reference alone as prior to the 1530 invasion, as no one could have built, history has proof, anything even nearly comparable after in the area.
Another culture invaded, changing all topographic names to the Oromo language.
It is my easy conviction the site on Wechacha, a perfect flat top or Amba is Ambanegest on the Venetian map. It is unquestionably a fortress of great standing protecting a vital area. In the map Ambanegest stands directly above Barara. It is clear to me Barara was under, in the direction the informed Zuqwala monks gave to the cartographer: within two, maximum three hours’ march to safety behind the walls. So Barara lied either in the plain below Korke, directly
below and to the east of the fortress we inspected, where some structures visible from the satellite should be investigated, or under the westernmost new buildings of Addis.

Two areas worthy of inspection, under the Wechacha fortress

Climbing from the valley below Mt. Dulicha we found some pottery and many, many obsidian cutters. This area would be just north of Barara. Other, abundant pottery found on the way up is recent and tied to Oromo rites still carried out at present.

2- A first, schematic action plan for archaeological campaigns

As to existing sites, just like Melka Kunture, at least one location in Adar should be equipped for brief visits, while active research continues elsewhere in the rather vast area.
The Tiya and Sidamo stelae will be included in the Rift variant of the Extended East Route
The area under the Wechacha fortress, particularly the plain towards Addis needs a proper survey and, possibly, will be excavated. Any finds there will give consistency to the recovery of Barara. A similar survey will touch the westernmost sectors of Addis. Two Mt. Yerer sites, as described by Breternitz deserve surveys and ‘Sire’ definitely an excavation campaign.
The French teams will be encouraged to continue their research in the Ifat, to include it in the global EER archaeological plan and to allow them to investigate any other connecting trade post towards the Amhar chain, or back towards the highlands.
Extensive and numerous rock paintings noted by previous surveys as well as some sites I found myself have never been studied in depth nor published. Luca Bachechi, Florence University, successor to Graziosi, the first scholar studying them is particularly interested this part of the research. His teams could be implied more extensively in this plan as a whole.
Prof. Ahimed Zacariah, the noted Harari scholar, has been involved in excavations in the Harla sites between Harar and Dire Dawa. A team has recovered there in 1987 a coin supposed to be Chinese, and older than that recently unearthed in Mambrui, Kenya. It is the best proof so far of how far fledged the trades were. His job should be reinforced, to also better understand the Harla’s role in the trade chains.
Koremi, a significant medieval site near Harar has never been appropriately dated.

Koremi houses                                              

Mosque with tombs, on the Kundudo splendid flat top

The Kundudo massif and its underlying valleys still hide Hubat, the fief and supposed birthplace of Mohamed al Ibrahimi, the conqueror of Abyssinia, and more towns. Seven in all affirms Cherif, the museum curator in Harar. One name I recall, Samti Guey. There should be six more. Beyond Babile, in one of the valleys of the present day Elephant Sanctuary was Bia Woraba, a
town found and described by Phillips Paulitschke in the late nineteen hundreds as characterised by tall orderly stone walls.
Meftuh Shash from Gursum and Toronto has only weeks ago seen there, also from Google earth imagery structures definitely worth a survey and consequent excavations.
The key figure to interest to and involve in this plan is Ato Jara H. Michael, Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism Art and Antiquities Conservation Office Head. A number of noted archaeologists could be contacted, or have already shown interest, like Prof. Rodolfo Fattovich, since a long time noted Axum expert, from Naples.
A dynamic figure, the main contact in Somaliland will be Miss Sada Mire, in charge of antiquities.
Somaliland has no dearth of recovered and still unidentified trade towns. I mention here our initial focus will be on those on the path to the Berbera or Zeyla ports.
Berbera and Zeyla bays deserve by all means the main attention. I have had contacts with experts in submerged vessel identification in Liguria, the Genoa region in Italy. Any wreckage possibly found will require archaeo-sub expertise, while slightly submerged structures, like shipyards, maintenance docks will be actively searched. An inland survey could lead to other related sites.
The complex Djibouti bay should be subject to the same attention. These surveys could ideally be performed by French teams, due to their expertise in the area.
This whole enterprise may redesign consistent bits of global medieval history, and requires an International panel ready to share findings, to a single goal: tracing trade routes from the Highlands of Abyssinia to the Indian Ocean.
The adhesion of bodies tied to the preparation of the Extended East Route, now exactly involved in resource mapping within Oromia in Ethiopia and Somaliland, that is the two Ministries of Culture and Tourism is a first step to involving local population and tourism sector operators.
My personal style of research turns whenever feasible scientific attention to practical efforts to better the lot of locals.
A feat I find amazingly favoured and relatively easy when similar efforts are tied to tourism.


Marco Vigano’, Finale Ligure, October 30th 201. Rights reserved ©.

Preservation of Urban and Architectural
Heritage of Harar, Ethiopia

Hisham Mortada, Dept. of Architecture, King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Abstract—The evolution of Harar, Ethiopia, goes back to the seventh century, when some Muslims from Mecca migrated to al-Habasha (Ethiopia) before Medina. These men spread Islam from Harar to various parts of the African Horn, thus Harar took a religious fame as the fourth holiest Muslim city. Since then, the city was developed by its Muslim population and became rich in its Islamic urban, architectural and cultural heritage. This has encouraged the UNESCO to declare this city as a World Heritage site. Regardless of the national and international efforts to preserve the Islamic heritage of Hara, the city is still suffering from physical decay. As a result a team from KAU took the responsibly of setting up a master plan aiming to preserve the urban and architectural heritage of Harar. As discussed in this research, the project consists of two phases. The first is an investigation of the potentials of preservation of urban and architectural heritage of Harar. This covers studies of historic, geographic, environmental, socio-cultural, urban and architectural aspects of the city. The second proposes a mechanism of dealing with the heritage of Harar through several stages such as a selection of an action area and surveying it in terms of land uses, building highest, buildings of special historic value, building physical conditions, and construction materials. The project is culminated in a detailed proposal for preservation and development of the action area in a sustainable sense.
Key Words—Harar, architectural heritage, Ethiopia, urban preservation, UNESCO.


The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) report has observed changes that threaten the architectural character of the Ethiopian city of Harar, where several homeowners had demolished their traditional homes and re-constructed them with modern materials. The report also showed the use of certain streets as open sewers. In 1974, the Ethiopian government has taken over all old closed houses and rented them in low-rent rents, which did not cover maintenance costs. This has led to the collapse of many of these dwellings. To overcome this problem, the government in collaboration with the World Bank and UNESCO, saved the amounts necessary to preserve the historic city, and thus was able to repair parts of the city wall. The Ethiopian government also has managed to restore one of the traditional dwellings. In addition, the International Council on Monuments and Sites has decided to include the city to the list of World Heritage Cities, which brought the city into the circle of global concern.
The aim of this research is to explore the architectural heritage of Harar and the importance of maintaining it. It is hoped that the study would contribute to shed light on the architectural heritage of Harar, and help the people of Harar to preserve it along with the rest of the city through the design and planning proposals the study proposes.


The heritage is the memory of nation, including its events, which have been historically affected by economic, social, cultural, spatial, and constructional conditions that form the cultural elements of the man and civilization including changes. It reflects human characteristics, and could be divided into two types:
A. Immaterial heritage: It is everything that is linked to community intellectual, spiritual and social life, and has no material base. Examples of this heritage are poetry, singing, music, dialects, names and terms of significance, and other codes of identity.
B. Material heritage: It is everything linked to community life and has details such as historical monuments, handcrafts, painting, etc. [1].


3.1 The Concept of Heritage Preservation

The concept of preserving and restoring monuments is determined by the acts of protecting them as artistic works and historic witnesses. Monuments’ maintenance must be subject to the principles and standards set up by the UNESCO, either repair or employment within the surrounded urban fabric. And the maintenance of Islamic heritage leads to revival it, and stems from the revival of cultural components of Islam in the economic, social, and civil areas.
The concept of conservation in terms of urban scale, explains the process of rehabilitation of heritage areas as the process that aims to develop and protect these areas. The essence of the conservation and rehabilitation process lies in working on the survival of those areas and confirmation of the character through the preservation of architectural heritage and visual character of the heritage areas with the protection of social and cultural personality of the community.

3.2 Methods of Preserving Heritage Areas

There are many different methods of preserving heritage areas depending on the situation of the region and its structural components. Preservation works can be classified according to the following methods:
A. Rehabilitation of construction: The process of reconstructing a building of a heritage value is considered as one of the scarcest available processes to maintain the building, and represent the only available means due to the falling and collapse of parts of the building where there is no other choice.
B. Restoration: This method is needed in historic areas to repair and renovate buildings, roads, facilities, and services, which the renewal process depends on. Restoration process gives an impression that is different from the nature of the original building and may lead to lose its old style. Therefore, restoration process must be dealt with very crucial care; otherwise it will distort the monument.
C. Conservation: It is a policy of preserving the mass architectural and historical cultural heritage in the region as a renewal policy, but distinct from the process of restoring because it focuses on the development of the social and economic status of the population as a way for the success of urban development. Therefore, it is the policy of comprehensive development, socially, economically and architecturally.
D. Re-employment: It is a policy that aims to re-use the heritage building in order to preserve it and ensure the permanent maintenance, as well as improving the surrounding urban center. The re-use of the heritage building is the most economically appropriate methods. The new use of the building should not conflict with historical and artistic values of the building, and should be appropriate to the visual and functional character of the building and construction. So, there are two methods for the recruitment of historic buildings and heritage:
1. Conducting the required adjustments by the employment of the building from inside, then general restoration and renovation of collapsing parts.
2. Designing a group of attached buildings to accommodate devices that complete the modern building employment.
E. Re-construction: It is the process of formation and re-installation, which shows overall or part of the concerned heritage to be preserved. Restoration is one way to renew the heritage landmarks, in which the process of completing deficiencies is conducted in the landmark's structure. It could divided to three types.
1. Accurate Restoration: It is based on accurate data of the condition of the building, and to take serious solutions within restoration process to match the origin situation the landmark.
2. Restoration by Similarity: It depends on the similarity in selecting the replaced internal or external parts.
3. Restoration Default: It is the formation of the landmark's defects.
F) Maintenance: It is the process of reducing the damage done to the landmark, or preventing it from happening. Maintenance is conducted periodically, and in addition to the inner appearance, it concerns about procedure objective treatments such as cracking and fissions. It prolongs the life of the building.
It must be noted here that all methods of dealing with buildings and heritage areas contain degrees of commitment and flexibility, ranging from conservation and prevention of any change to the comprehensive renovation to the possibility of choosing more than one method, depending on the condition of the building. Choosing the appropriate method also depends on several factors including historical, artistic value, building classification, archaeological significance, and the building condition [2].


Harar is one of the oldest Islamic cities in Africa, and considered as the fourth holiest city in Islam, based on the fact of King Negus of Abyssinia welcomed and protected the followers of Prophet Mohamed during their migration to Abyssinia. This has made a strong impact in the history and culture of Harar for centuries to come. Indeed, the way the city planned and developed, and the styles of its mosques, shrines and traditional dwellings indicate that Harar has a special traditional Islamic heritage and way of life, which is still preserved and practiced. The structure of the city with its central heart (Jugol) and commercial and religious buildings reflect the traditional Islamic architecture of the city. It is a cultural product and a distinctive way to show demographic changes although people of Harar stick to their religious identity till today.
Harar is also one of the largest historical cities in Africa, dating back to the tenth century AD, when forty four Muslims arrived Harar calling for Islam. One of these men was Sheikh Abadir, who was considered the founder of the city, which was established to be a major center of trade. The city was an important scientific and commercial center in North Africa, and scientists and students used to come from all over the world and East Africa. Some sources also suggest that the establishment of historic Harar goes back to the seventh century AD, when Arab groups have migrated from Hadhramaut, Yemen [3].
Harar features an unprecedented pattern of architecture reflecting the impact of Islamic culture and African traditions, which together give the city a distinct character. This has helped it to withstand the forces of change over time. However, the city’s ability to keep conservatively has come under doubt because of the winds of rampant globalization, and like other historic cities, Harar will lose its identity unless it maintained. As previously noted, the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has reported several changes that threaten the architectural character of the area [4]. 4.3 Social and Administrative construction The social life in Harar leans on two systems. First, is religious, so-called "Afusha" which are strong social systems
at the level of neighborhoods where nine people from the neighborhood (historic center consisting of five neighborhoods) manage the daily life of residents such as way rights, marriages and funerals, etc. Each individual financially contributes through a social system adds to social solidarity among the population through cooperation and respect for the traditions of society life and religion. The second system is regulatory or administrative called "Kabeil", which, as a word, might have come from the Arabic, word “Kabela”, meaning a tribe. This system divides the city into seven administrative units or Kabeils, each has a team of elected eight members. The task of these members is to maintain order and respect of law and collect rents of state-owned dwellings. The " Kabeil" is the link between the citizens and the state. Also, it provides health care, building permits, and legal advice. The "Kabeil" operates and cooperates in some matters related to the establishment and maintenance of public spaces [5]. 4.4 Urban and Architectural Characteristics of Historic Harar The city is characterized by authenticity, urban fabric and rich heritage of traditional Islamic culture. The section of the historic city (Jugol) is surrounded by a historical fence (Fig. 1). Most of the buildings, from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, still exist. Yet, some modern buildings affect the unity of this traditional architecture. During the occupation of Menelik II (1887) some of traditional buildings were substituted and the main rounded mosque has been replaced by a Church. During this era, the Indian traders living in the city constructed houses with large wooden balconies, which gave a new character to the city. Some of them were so special like "Rimbaud " house which recently has been rehabilitated and used as a cultural center and library [6] (Fig. 2). Despite the relative newness of these houses, mostly built in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and being qualitatively different from the traditional Harar houses, they are considered as a unique addition to the historic architecture of the city. And now they are part of the heritage of Harar.
Fig. 1. The location of the historic city (Jugol) within the city of Harar [4]
Fig. 2. Rimbaud House
As for the urban fabric of Harar, it has remained unchanged except for the addition of a street under the Italian occupation at the western gate till the main square in the city center. This street allowed cars to access its heart. This has contributed to the creation of new activities and added vitality to the city. Harar has retained about 90% of the urban fabric without change. The urban tissue is distinguished by a complex network of narrow streets and cul-de-sacs. The walls of the roads are made of bricks and free from any openings except the doors to provide privacy to residents [3]. Most of Harar's buildings, and in particular mosques, are in good conditions except the main mosque whose façade was rebuilt poorly. Harar's housing is one of the most important components of its heritage and its most wonderful and best visual value. Almost each house is characterized by distinct features that distinguish it from other houses. First, the entrance door is the only house opening to the street, leading to a courtyard by the brick beds. The house is also characterized by the large quantity of so called "niche" and elements of decoration from the local dishes and wicker baskets, which give a distinct character to the house [6]. In fact, the architecture, decoration, and handicrafts that together form the distinctive character that the people of Harar are proud of the city’s wall has six gates; five of them are historical and the sixth is new. The locations of these gates are determined according to the main streets linking the city with the surrounding. These five gates are opened to the streets that flow into the city center and faced by five neighborhoods. The historical city (Jugol) has a pattern of traditional Islamic urban layout surrounded by a fence, and the mosque and market are located in the center (Fig. 3). Until 1887, all public buildings located in the center were delimited by triangle's sides matching municipality building (west), the main mosque (east), which was built as a church instead, and the main market (south). The center also connects to the Western Gate Road, which is the latest straight road across the city and surrounded by stores. The market area is linked with a road surrounded by traditional stores. The concentration of commercial activities around the main street has helped to leave the rest parts of the city for residential uses. The city includes a large number of mosques and shrines. Most mosques are small and have a single space for prayer and as well as a small courtyard. In general, it has been noticed that 85% of Harar traditional houses are in good condition.
CCIA’2008 4
Fig. 3. The urban fabric of Jugol [4]
4.4.1 The City Wall and Gates The wall surrounding the city is called "Jugol", which is also the same name of what is inside the wall historic city (Jugol) (Fig. 4). Its date is back to the era of Prince Nur Ibn AL-Mujahid (1551-1568), who constructed it to protect the city from external threats. This work has been carried out with the assistance of the Sheriff of Mecca. The length of the wall is 3342 meters with an average height of 4 meters, and built of local limestone. Fig. 4. Harar’s wall and one of its gates
The wall has five gates closed at night and used to include watchtowers but only one still exists. Their locations have been determined according to defensive strategy as well as to the direction of trade routes, the location of lakes around the city, as well as the contribution of topography, rivers and springs. This has also determined the route of the fence, which in turn affected the pattern of the city planning. The locations of the gates are also in accordance with the directions of linking the city to the surroundings. There are historical traces connecting the number of gates, five, and the five pillars of Islam. They are opened on streets that lead to the city center and faced by five neighborhoods. A sixth gate was added by Menilik in 1887. The wall has been repaired in different eras, but the restoration made by the Egyptians, strengthened and increased the height of the fence to 5 meters in some parts and added 24 control towers. The Italians restored parts of the wall, rebuild the southern gateway, and added a decorated collar to the western gate. The rest of the gates are still intact with the same wooden doors with some additions of new larger openings to contain the vehicular traffic. The modifications and rebuilding parts of the wall at different times and materials have lead to lack of homogeneity of the wall appearance. The remains of the original wall are less than 10.16% (338.25 m) [7]. 4.4.2 Commercial Activities Trade played an important role in the history of Harar and connected it to the outside world, and contributed to its continuity through different periods despite its geographic and political isolation. Arab traders have founded the city on the basis of appropriate location on trade routes. Trade has also contributed to the richness of the city, and helped it to stand against the many challenges that came over the course of centuries. It is clear that there is a strong effect of trade on the urban formation of the city, and that is exhibited in the existence of a market at every gate and the continued presence of the gates themselves and its maintenance. Also, the trade has lead to the creation of an organic urban pattern of narrow streets surrounded by shops on both sides, which has become a major component of the city. The city includes several commercial fingers stretching from main streets, especially Anddinnya Manget main street. Anddinnya Magnet is a sequence of long activities of modern trade involving imported goods and stores of building materials, auto parts, paper, and places of photography, tailors, and jewelry, etc. The shops vary in size between a room, two or three, and sometimes larger. The main street also contains some bars and hotels. It leads to the main commercial square of the city where more shops, a cinema, outdoor cafes, and the main market for khat exist. On other major streets, there are traditional shops, such as stores that sell fabrics and handicrafts. There are also butcher shops, groceries, shoes, barbers, and stalls selling vegetables, bread and gasoline. Spices and coal sellers are located outside the fence. As previously mentioned, markets exist at all gates except Pedro gate (governor). The gate Osmadden (Victory) has a special status as it opens at two large markets stretching outside the gate. The first is Taiwan, where various types of imported goods are sold, and the other is the Christian Market, where handicrafts, perfumes and spices are sold. There is another important market, the animals’ market, which is located outside the Aseyoum Gate Fence (Al-fatah). The rest of the city is not free from the commercial activities of small grocery stores scattered throughout Harar [4]. 4.4.3 Mosques Mosques are the historical heart of Harar. Out of the 99 mosques, 82 are inside the boundaries of the fence. This large number of mosques proves the Islamic historical importance of Harar. The mosques occupy prime locations in the city fabric and distributed in different parts. Most of them are on the major streets/spines of Harar. There are also mosques built in the backyard dwellings, rated 18.75%. They are constructed from local stones, making them fully architecturally integrated with the physical texture of the city. Small minarets or projected mihrabs characterize some of them. Though most of these mosques take simple forms but they could be distinguished according to their three types: traditional, public, and small mosque. a. Traditional Mosque: It consists of two prayer spaces and a yard. The prayer space or courtyard is rectangular, ranging between 24 m2 and 35 m2. The prayer courtyard roof is based on two pillars and divides the space into six smaller spaces, and forward is the mihrab. The floor is natural compact earth covered with carpets or mats. The walls are covered with of Balnura and shelves for books, candles and shoes. The yard area consists of two parts, first transition zone at the entrance to the mosque with an area of 5 m2, and the second is an open space sometimes covered with curvy roof and used for prayer when the indoor is crowded. There is a corner used for teaching and another for ablution (wudo'). Sometimes a small garden exists for the cultivation of treatment plants. Some mosques have minarets that vary in shape, depending on the era when the mosque was built. An example of this type is the mosque of Mahad Sai, which was founded in the eighteenth century and reflects all the components of this type of mosques. It is accessed through the courtyard of a house (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Mahad Sai Mosque, Harar

b. Public Mosque: It is the mosque in where Friday prayers are conducted. There are five of them within Jugol. Every mosque is located in the vicinity of the five neighborhoods, and slightly different from the traditional ones especially in the area of prayer space, which is twice the size of the traditional one [7]. c. Small Mosque: It contains one or more tombs. This mosque type has a shrine of one or more of the imams (prayer leaders) or muezzins (prayer callers), and sometimes a person believed to be "Awlia" or saints. In this case, the mosque is revived every year in memory or celebrations. Masjid Syed Ahmed Ibrahim is an example of such type of shrine [8] (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Sayid Abrahim Ahmed Mosque, Harar

All the above mosques are built with stone, whether granite or limestone, which installed using mud mortar. Doors and roofs of the prayer hall are from wood resistant to insects. The height of the walls is 4 meters, and every meter of it is horizontally strengthened with a piece of timber for cohesion. The doors of the mosques are narrow and short, to make people bow when entering, expressing submission to God and humility. In addition to walls, roof has two layers, one is of tree branches and the other is dry grass covered with a layer of mud. This method of construction is called Derby. The roof is little inclined to drain the rainwater through the gutters, and maintained twice a year by replacing the two layers of mud and grass [7].

Fig. 7. The different types of mosques of Harar
4.4.4 Houses Houses form the bulk of the architectural heritage of Harar city and are considered as the city's historic symbol. Harar includes around 5115 residences within the fence. They congregate a complex of several separate or connected units. In the past, combined houses were used by members of the same family. Currently, this has changed, as relatives are not necessarily to reside in the same complex. The elevations of these houses are almost similar, but they could be distinguished in terms of their three types: the traditional house, the mixed house, and the Indian house. A. The Traditional House A traditional house of Harar mostly consists of a rectangle containing three rooms on the ground floor and a room upstairs in addition to the services area (bathrooms and kitchen) that are open toward the patio and there is no direct contact between them and the rooms of the house. The living room is the patio, which is open to the sky and where various household chores such as washing and cooking are performed. It is also used for resting and chewing khat. This patio is separated from the street by a wall with an entrance door, which is often left open. It is the distribution space of the rest of the house elements, which are limited by a specific door that separates the street from the yard, and another to the main residential area and separates the semi-public from the private space. The parlor, or the so-called Gidir Gar, has a wide high entrance with wooden door decorated with floral pattern reflecting the social class of owners. It is used to receive guests and for eating. It is the space for men as well as handicrafts made by women and entertainment. The parlor is lighted up through the door because it does not have other openings. It is noted that more than half of this room or hall is a raised terrace designated for sitting and furnished with carpets and pillows called " Naddabah". On hall's walls, there are rectangular hollows with shelves for the Quran and important images. The right side of these hollows represent men while the left represents women. There are other hollows that have a pointed arch for valuables and porcelain vases. The reception room has what looks like a desk made of wood and used to store musical instruments, and sometimes dishes and other purposes. The roof is load up by a wooden beam that separates the entry space from the sitting area. Some wooden sticks are hanged down above the front door and used to hang rugs that are manufactured by housewives. The walls are covered with large numbers of decorative elements such as baskets, wooden plates, and metal ware. Housewives are responsible for decorating this room. The room’s decoration reflects the family's status in and relationships with the community. There are also two rooms in the ground floor and connected to the living room. This room which is called Kirtat, is an intimate space partially opened to the reception hall but separated by a wall that sometimes has window for ventilation. It includes a bench, and sometimes is used to isolate patients from the people of the house. It is also used by newly married couples and as place of giving birth. Women and children occasionally sleep in this room. The other room is a storage room facing Kirat called Dera. Sometimes it is used to sustain newly marriages and has a cupboard for keeping clothes and fabrics. In the upper floor, there is a large room called Quti gala and used for storage or turned into a bedroom of the parents or elder brother where he receives his guests. There is also a small room called the Tit Gar and can be accessed either from inside the house or the courtyard. This room, which also includes a bench, is, being private, allocated to the eldest son and his family. Stones with a mixture of mortar are used to build these housing types. Floors are made of wooden beams covered with a mixture of herbs and clay (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8. Mahdi Adous’s house, an example of traditional house type B. Mixed House This type combines traditional housing with later additions of the Indian style on the first or second floor. Access to the added rooms is through a wooden corridor opens to the courtyard or street. It is the popular housing type in Harar. The added part is usually a rectangular building on one side of the courtyard and includes rooms stacked side by side overlooking the courtyard through the windows. The mixed house does not have the same degree of architectural quality of the original house. The upper floor has the same pattern of distribution of rooms that are accessed via an external wooden corridor through a wooden ladder (Fig. 9).
Fig. 9. Khadija Ahmed’s house, an example of mixed house type C. Indian House Indian traders brought this style to Harar after 1887, and most of these houses were built in the highest areas of Harar city, which then dominated the city landscape. A house of this type consists of a simple rectangle of two floors characterized by a covered wooden porch in the first floor facing the courtyard or street. One of the most famous and beautiful Indian houses is Rimbaud house that was built in the early twentieth century. The local authorities recently renovated it with the assistance of France. Nowadays the house is used as a cultural center and library. Currently, there are about 12 houses of this type in Harar and they are all in the highest area of the city. The residence of Tafarre Head (Fig. 10) is one of them but needs rehabilitation. The major difference between the Indian-style and traditional style is that Indian-style unlike the traditional, open to the outside and closes on itself. Fig. 10. Ras Tafari’s house, an example of Indian house
5. REFERENCES [1] A. T. Sheibani, “Preservation of Historic Monuments in Modern Theories and Applications and the Culture of Arab Countries” Sixth Workshop of Organization of Islamic Cities and Capitals, OICAC Eighth Conference, Tehran, Iran, July, 1997.
[2] M. E. Nooraldeen, R. M. Kamil, “Preservation and Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings and Districts,” Sixth Workshop of Organization of Islamic Cities and Capitals, OICAC Eighth Conference, Tehran, Iran, July, 1997.
[3] A. Abbas, “A historical study of the City-State of Harar (1795-1875),” M.A. Thesis, Addis Ababa University, Department of History, 1992.
[4] F. Aalund, The walled town of Harar in Master plan for the preservation of cultural heritage of Ethiopia, UNESCO, 1985.
[5] H. M. Jara, “An approach to the conservation of the historical town of Harar”, Proceeding of the first National Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa, Institute of Ethiopian Studies, April 11- 12, pp. 403-417, 1990.
[6] E. D. Hecht, “The city of Harar and the traditional Harar house,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies, vol. 15, pp. 56-78, 1982.
[7] E. Greiner, Conservation and development of Harar heritage: mosques File of inventory, Culture and Sports Bureau, Harar, 2003.
[8] N. Ammi, Conservation and development of Harar heritage: tombs,