North African Architecture: History & Examples

Instructor: Melissa Olivieri
The history of North African architecture is full of variety, mystery, and mastery. This lesson contains a brief overview of the history of North African architecture. We will also observe examples of the unique and fascinating structures found in the region.

Styles of North African Architecture

The styles of North African architecture are varied and often influenced by Muslim and Christian religions. Tents, domed and cylindrical huts, rectangular homes, forest dwellings, shrines, palaces, and mysterious masterpieces all make up the history of North African architecture. This lesson will briefly discuss the origins of Egyptian, Maghreban, and Nubian architecture.

Egyptian Architecture

The structures built in ancient Egypt were diverse and made primarily of sun-baked brick and stone due to the lack of wood in the area. Limestone was a common material used for building in Egypt as it was found in the Nile riverbed (and elsewhere throughout North Africa). Among the things the Egyptians built were dams, monuments, tombs, and temples.

Perhaps the most well-known structures in all of Africa are the Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx. The Giza pyramid complex is located about 20 miles outside of Cairo, Egypt. These pyramids consist of the Pyramid of Khufu (also known as the Great Pyramid or the Pyramid of Cheops), the medium-sized Pyramid of Khafre, and the smaller Pyramid of Menkaure. There are also several small 'queen pyramids' withing the Giza complex.

The pyramids were built during the Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt. They served as grave sites for pharaohs and also functioned to honor the legacy of these leaders. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of the pyramids. Experts estimate that it was built over a 10 to 20-year period and was finished around 2560 BC. It is the largest and the only remaining member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

After the Great Pyramid (Pyramid of Khufu) was built and Khufu's reign ended, his son Khafre built the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Sphinx to guard his pyramid. Finally, the smaller Pyramid of Menkaure was built about 40 years later. While the pyramids were built from limestone bricks, the Sphinx was carved from one single rock!

The Great Pyramid of Giza and The Sphinx
Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Giza

The size and design of the Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx have amazed the generations that followed. They are examples of the exceptional skill in design and engineering found among the ancient Egyptian culture.

Maghreban Architecture

The Berbers were the indigenous people of North Africa and are credited with Maghreban architecture. This culture eventually spread to many areas in North Africa and the Mediterranean, but its early history is found in Algeria. Thousands of ancient tombs have been discovered there. These tombs were domed and contained a spiral pathway that led to a single chamber.

Tomb of Juba II and Selena in Tipaza, Algeria
Tomb of Juba II and Selena in Tipaza, Algeria

Later examples of Maghreban architecture included dwellings made of limestone that resembled multi-level apartment buildings.

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