Last week, you were introduced to three amazing places to discover and explore in Africa. Here are new destinations to consider the next time you’re in Africa — you can thank us later!
Elmina Castle, Ghana
The Portuguese built the castle of St. George, El Mina in 1482. The word, mina, means “the mine” in Portuguese. The area was called a mine because of the gold that could be found there; therefore, it was considered a gold mine of sorts. Over the years it has become known simply as Elmina.
Elmina is located along the southern Cape Coast of Ghana, and west of Accra. Originally built for the timber and gold trade, it was used later during the infamous trans-Atlantic slave trade. The trans-Atlantic slave trade continued even after the Dutch had taken over the castle in 1637.
Today, the castle is preserved as a Ghanaian national museum and is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. People from all origins and cultures come to witness this monument to learn about its history that has affected the world.
The site continues to offer daily historical tours and is an extremely popular destination for African-American tourists seeking to connect with their heritage. For many, it is a sobering moment where people can only imagine what their forefathers went through over 400 years ago. Many colleges and students visit Elmina as part of their learning curriculum of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In Lalibela, Ethiopia there is a population of 10,000 people with well over 1,000 people as priests; its people are traditionally Eastern Orthodox Christians. There are no gas stations or paved roads in the city. It is a very simple and modest city, and is known solely for its historic churches. These churches were carved out of huge blocks of granite and were commissioned by King Lalibela in the 12th century. The King’s goal was simple: to create a New Jerusalem. This rich religious history makes Lalibela one of the holiest cities in Ethiopia.
The names of the 11 rock churches, as they are called, hint at their Hebrew connection. Some of the more famous ones are: Beta Medhane Alem (House of the Saviour of the World), Beta Qedus Mikael (House of St Michael), and Beta Amanuel (House of Emmanuel). Two of the churches, Abba Libanos and Bete Golgotha, are famous for the art displayed on their walls; it is also speculated that they may contain the tomb of Emperor Lalibela. In addition, the church, Bete Gabriel-Rufael, might have been a royal palace according to speculation, and Bete Merkorios could have been used as a prison.
The architecture of Lalibela’s churches is quite unique: its roofs are ground level and some of the churches are as low as 40 feet deep. What is quite amazing about these churches is not only their size, but the fact that these churches were all constructed using hammers and chisels. That’s right — no industrialized machinery or excavation tools whatsoever. Plus, the tunnels and walkways connect the 11 churches. Cool, right?
To enter the churches, tourists and visitors have to descend narrow tunnels and passageways. Inside the churches are further magnificent details. Some of the churches are adorned with wall paintings; others with different crosses, from simple and elaborate to the eastern religious swatiskas. Many people visit Lalibela as a center of pilgrimage, and with this amazing history, it is easy to see why.
Virunga Mountains (Tracking Gorillas) in Uganda and Rwanda
If you are an adventurous animal-lover, you have to visit the silverback gorillas of the Virunga Mountains that border Uganda and Rwanda. The Virunga Gorillas are mountain gorillas that live in the Mikeno Sector. Over half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas can be found amidst the Virunga chain of nine volcanoes. The mountain gorillas are the largest of all gorillas, but are sadly, now the most endangered of the species. These gorillas live in three countries in Africa: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
What makes these gorillas unique from any other species are their similarities to human beings. For example, according to data proffered by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), mountain gorillas are ninety-eight percent identical to humans. Mountain gorillas also live in large family units led by a single dominant adult male, known as the “Silverback” — a name derived from the grey hair that develops on a male’s back as it reaches adulthood. The female gorillas are typically smaller in proportion to the males.
Because of the presence of these creatures and their declining population, tourism continues to flourish in Virunga. Despite government agencies aiding in stabilizing the environments for the gorillas, contributing factors such as the influx of refugees of the civil wars in Central Africa and the gorilla’s low tolerance for human diseases have continued to cause a severe decline in the gorillas’ existence. With this rapid decline in population, you need to hurry and see these amazing creatures before it becomes too late.
This week’s African Summer Destinations series present any traveler with an opportunity to learn a bit about history, religion and wildlife. Take advantage of this opportunity, visit one or all of these places and learn something new!
Photos via Google Images