The country of Somalia has an abundance of ancient and medieval sites that are echoes of ancient trade cities, and kingdoms from the Middle Ages that for centuries successfully carved out and defended their dominance in East Africa, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The old city of Mogadishu is considered a successor to the ancient trade city of Sarapion, famed for its bustling trade with the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
Mogadishu by the Middle Ages had become the capital of a powerful sultanate and was according to travelers at that time the richest city on the East African coast. It controlled the lucrative gold trade drawn from its colony in Sofala, in modern Mozambique and exported textiles to as far away as Egypt.
The Mogadishans managed to mint their own coins, and welcomed Muslim refugees from Persia and the wider Middle East fleeing from the Mongols and later the Portuguese. The city is filled with medieval heritage in the form of fortresses, old mosques and high-rise stone houses.
The ancient city of zeila was known as the City of Lights and served as the wealthiest province and the capital of the kingdoms of Ifat and Adal, both of whom were famous across the Silk Road for their commerce and their centuries long war against the kingdom of Abyssinia and the Portuguese Empire.
Through the Port of Zeila, the kingdom of Adal introduced cannon warfare to the African continent and left an extensive architectural legacy in the form of old mosques, tombs and old city quarters.
Taleh Fortress Complex
The Dervish State at the height of its power and resistance against the Imperial Powers, during the Scramble for Africa, constructed fortresses across East Africa to increase their defensive capacity.
Their capital and most impressive legacy remains at Taleh in northern Somalia where they established a large complex of fortresses. The main fortress, Silsilat, included conical tower granaries that opened only at the top, wells with sulfurous water, cattle watering stations, a guard tower, walled garden, and tombs.
Rock Paintings of Laas Geel
Though the country is teeming with prehistoric rock paintings, the most famous site for now is undoubtedly the Laas Geel Complex. Filled with paintings displaying scenes of herders and their animals, an ancient calendar, religious expressions and much more.
The site represents some of the finest examples of a thriving prehistoric culture in this part of the world between 5000 BC and 9000 BC.
The whitewashed coral stone city of Merca was a thriving medieval center for commerce in the southern part of Somalia. It was one of the most important administrative centers in the Ajuraan Empire and is one of Africa’s most well preserved examples of a medieval urban city.
Barawa like its sister city of Merca is another coral stone city dating from the medieval period that is home to old mosques, palaces, forts, tombs and unique stone and mortar houses.
It was an important city in both the Sultanate of Mogadishu and the Ajuraan Empire, and was the scene of an important medieval battle against the Portuguese Empire, that attacked the city but was repulsed by its inhabitants who quickly recovered and resumed their trade with foreign kingdoms.
The Al-Mnara Tower is a medieval light house in Mogadishu that guided ships from across the Silk Road to the harbour of Mogadishu. Its name literally means ‘Light Tower’ and represents an important example of medieval African navigational engineering.
Berbera was part of the chain of classical Somali city-states that engaged in a lucrative trade with Phoenicia, Ptolemic Egypt, Ancient Greece, Parthian Persia, and the Roman Empire.
It was known in ancient times as Malao and by the Middle Ages had managed to reinvent itself as an important Islamic center and port in the kingdoms of Ifat and Adal. The city contains medieval houses, mosques, trade centers, and colonial era buildings.
Citadel of Gondershe
Gondershe is an ancient stone city built on an oasis with a walled enclosure. The town’s ruins consist of unique Somali architecture, such as coral stone houses, fortifications, tombs and mosques.
Ruins of Opone
Opone was an ancient Somali city situated in the Horn of Africa. It is known for being the most likely site of the ancient kingdom of Punt and for its trade with the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and the states of ancient India.
Through archaeological remains, the historic port has been identified with the city of Hafun in modern-day Northeast Somalia. The ruins of Opone contain ancient drystone walls, houses with courtyards, and the location of the old harbour.
Somalia has never signed the UNESCO charter, making none of its historic sites currently eligible for World Heritage Status.
Once the Somali government signs the charter, the country has a large list of ancient and medieval sites it can put forward as candidates for World Heritage Status.