Website Category: Ancient Sub Saharan Civilisations
Area: approx 0.9
Criteria: (iii) unique testimony to a cultural
(iv) significant stages in human history
Location and Values: The town of Mbanza Kongo is located in the extreme north Angola, about 40 km from the international border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. It occupies a prominent ridge on the fringes of the Congo Basin rainforests. The world heritage area covers about 0.9 km2 (within a much larger present-day township extending over about 15 km2) that served as the political and religious centre of a prosperous town which has existed for some eight centuries, including an extended period before the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century.
The area is significant because of its long history as the capital of one of the largest constituted states in southern Africa from the 14th to the 19th century. It was at the centre of the principal slave trade route between central Africa and the Americas. After the arrival of the Portuguese in the 15th century, the indigenous culture started to be influenced by Christianity and local elites began to adopt western lifestyles. Mbanza Kongo illustrates, more than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa, the profound changes caused by the introduction of Christianity and the arrival of Europeans.
The world heritage site is small and the vestiges relate to the two main periods of the area’s history – the pre-colonial and post-colonial periods. There are very few tangible remains of the pre-colonial period as buildings were constructed of local (mud and timber) materials, and the original town was captured and reduced to ruins in 1568-1571. So knowledge of this period is based on a limited amount of archaeological and intangible evidence. During the colonial period the Portuguese introduced stone buildings using western building techniques, including several churches, and these form the basis of the built element of the site that can be seen today.
The archaeological elements of the site include four main excavations, covering Tadi dya Bukikwa (probably the remains of a Jesuit college described in 1624); Madungu (a ditch used as a waste dump near some native dwellings and containing 15th – 17th century artefacts); Lumbu (probably a royal residence) and Mpindi a Tadi (places linked to the funeral ceremonies of the kings). The built elements of the site are mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries, but they include the remains of the first Catholic cathedral, Kulumbimbi, built of local rubble in the late 16th century. There are a number of more recent churches, a new Royal Palace (built in 1901), and traces of colonial architecture including a Portuguese fort and municipal administration buildings.
Slideshow of M’Banza Kongo: The slideshow is very short and includes a couple of images of the Kulumbimbi, a view of the rural landscape around the area, and one of the more recently-built churches.
Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of Mbanza Kongo on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing. The image opens on the Cemiterio dos Reis do Congo (King’s burial ground) and adjacent Mkulumbimbi (relicts of a 16th century Catholic cathedral) close to the northern portion of the airport runway. Zoom out for a view of the wider world heritage area lying to the east of the modern-day airport and covering an area about 350 metres wide on either side of two long avenues and bounded in the east by the prominent surfaced road that is clearly visible in the satellite imagery. There are no archaeological remains to be seen at this scale, but the satellite view shows some of the churches and other prominent historical buildings while providing a good basis for understanding the modern context of this site.
Other Links: Official UNESCO Site Details