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Colonial architecture in the Sudan-LS

Thursday, 26 April 2018 08:11
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Intisar Soghayroun


Colonial architecture an architectural style from another country that has been incorporated into the buildings of settlements or colonies in distant locations.

Colonists frequently have sought to build settlements that synthesized the architecture of their countries of origin with the design characteristics of their new lands, creating hybrid design.   The British colonial architecture is thought to be most visible in North America, British West Indies, East Asia and Australia. In fact a country like Sudan (not to mention other African countries which have been under British colonization) embraces much of this architecture, most of which is still standing. This heritage ranges from public buildings,(rail way buildings, government offices, houses, education buildings like the original building of Gordon College, now the University of Khartoum Main Library, and schools that spread all over Sudan), together with military , religious and funerary structures.

Most of the buildings have been either left to decay, like some of the railway stations, or have fallen victim to development projects and thus totally destroyed, or exposed to renewal which has led to minor or major changes in the building or the deterioration of parts of the buildings (insertion of air conditioning, painting..etc). An important fact to be mentioned is that these buildings have not been protected by the Antiquities law until very recently.

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Main railway building at Al Obaid, North Kordofan State (photo by Intisar Soghayroun 2015)

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Part of the British residential area being dismantled, Al Obaid, North Kordofan state (Photo by Intisar Soghayroun


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One of the administration buildings Gezira scheme (Photo by M Hayatei 2017)

Research questions:

1. How to recognize and appreciate colonial style architecture in its many variations?.

2. To what extent were the colonial buildings in the Sudan subject to the available material and workers?

3. To what extent it has been influenced by the local construction techniques and as well by the weather conditions of the Sudan.

4. To what extent did this architecture meet the necessary criteria for the civic edifices and housing for the new rulers, who needed facilities comparable to the standards to which they were accustomed?

5. To what extend were the buildings modified in their plans to meet the local house design?

6. Can we say we have pure or hybrid architecture?

Research context:

Historical review: The Sudan has a long and eventful history. The relics so far discovered have pushed its history back to 300,000 years ago. It is one of the largest countries in Africa, with a population of around 35,000,000 people of various ethnic origins, cultures, traditions and religious beliefs.

Colonial architecture in the Sudan can be dated to the Egyptians Middle Kingdom (about 2000-1700BC) who established forts to protect their southern frontiers between the First and Second Cataracts. During the New Kingdom (1600-1100

BC) they pushed their frontiers further south and up to the Fourth Cataract region;

they established fortified towns , temples and palaces.

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Remains of New kingdom temple (photo by Intisar Soghayroun)

By the end of the Sudanese Meroitic Empire in AD350, the Axumites overran the country ending the mighty grasp of the Meroites. Recent research in the Nile Valley State has shown evidence of Axumite architecture but this investigation is still in its preliminary stage.

In AD 1517 Suakin, the major port on the Sudanese coast, was seized by the Ottoman troops from the local Funj rulers and since that time and up to the middle of the 19th century it was an Ottoman domain. Later in that century the Egyptian building style appeared in the town. There was another advance of the Ottomans into Sudan along the Nile from Egypt in 1583. During that time most of the country was under the control of the Funj rulers and their allies the Abdellab. The Ottomans built and rehabilitated forts along their march to the south. Their advance

was discontinued by an alleged message sent from the Funj rulers to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul showing that they were Arabs of Ommayad origin and Muslims. Thus the Ottman stopped their march and defined their frontiers at the Third Cataract region.

In 1820 Mohammed Ali Pasha sent his army to invade the Funj Kingdom looking for the gold mines and men to be recruited as soldiers. The Turkish domination continued up to 1885 when it ended with the Mahdiya uprising. The architectural remains include military remains (forts, defensive walls, towers), secular (public buildings, indigo industry), religious (domed tombs, mosques). This legacy spread all over Sudan from Fazougli on the Blue Nile to our frontiers with Egypt and from al Fashir in western Sudan to Suakin on the Red Sea.

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Remains of the so-called Mohamed Ali Pasha camp at Fazougli, Blue Nile State (photo: Intisar Soghayroun 2016)

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The monumental fortified entrance of the mamouria, Al Obaid.

North Kordofan State (Photo by Intisar Soghayroun 2015)

In 1898 started the Condominium rule of the Sudan, by Britain and Egypt. Despite the fact that Sudan was under both countries, British culture was the dominating element in that period. The British had control both in town planning and in architecture. They supplied the engineers whilst the builders were from Egypt.

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The Mamouria (Police station, customs, telegraph and post office) of al Khandaq (Photo by Intisar Soghayroun)

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Remains of one of the British rest houses, Erkweit, Red Sea State.

Photo by Khalid Hamid 2015

Objectives: the research project aims at:

a) Assessment of the incorporation of Turkish and British styles in Sudan. The Sudan, being on the periphery of the Ottoman Empire, could act as an example of how to deal with the archaeology of peripheries. At the same time we can infer whether the British style was influenced by its predecessors.

b) Recording, documentation and authentication of   the   still standing monuments. While some of the buildings have already disappeared, others are threatened, which necessitates an urgent intervention through recording, and raising peoples awareness of the importance of this heritage as part of the history of the country).

c) Create a database in order to compare and contrast this architecture with other colonial buildings in other former colonies (Britain in India for example, bearing in mind the difference in the period of colonization between Sudan and India).

Methodology: the research is a comprehensive archaeological, architectural and cultural project, which involves the following:


a) Studying the archives in Sudan, Egypt, Turkey and Britain. This would include the collection of photographs at SOAS (University of London), and Durham (Sudan archive).

b) Archaeological   survey for registration   of sites, location   using GPS, photography.

c) Architectural analysis of a representative sample of the buildings.

d) The team: it is composed of archaeologists, a surveyor, architects, historians and a water-color artist (we intend to preserve some of the heritage in the

form of paintings)


Dissemination strategy: the remains spread all over Sudan and hence one of the dissemination methods is through the team touring around the country to raise awareness among public and officials.

All results will be translated into Arabic.

The second step is publication of results in journals, and finally a book in both

English and Arabic.

A web site is our last element in this strategy, in which all photographs, maps, ground plans and articles will be published. The target is to create a platform that encourages others to share their heritage (Now the project is hosted in our web site:

The project duration: the project is set up for 4 years and is divided into phases: Phase one: literature and archives collection, and survey of western Sudan states

(Kordofan and Darfur).

Phase two: survey of the rest of the country. Some of the towns have been covered during my previous fieldwork trips like Berber, Erkweit and Suakin. Others are partially studied like Al Obaid, Atbara, Roseiris and Khartoum. (dissemination strategy will start here).

Phase three: synthesis of information, architectural analysis (publication of some articles ).

Phase four: summing up and editing and publication of book(s).

Concluding remark: The study is part of what is termed colonial archaeology and in some cases the archaeology of recent past. It aims to incorporate scholars from various institutes, free lancers and relevant specialization beside archaeology (architects, surveyors, art historians....etc.)



The main references to be consulted are included in

Welsby, D. 2011: Sudans First Railway, the Gordon Relief Expedition and

Dongola Campaign, SARS, London.

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