Medieval Life

Africa during the Middle Ages

Medieval Europe was familiar with Egypt and northern African countries, but the majority of this continent remained a mystery to Middle Age society. South of the Sahara, only limited penetration by Arabs brought back stories of these exotic lands. But civilizations flourished during these centuries, especially in Ghana and along Africa's East Coast.

Traders, merchants and adventurers traditionally used routes established by the Chinese and Arabs based around well-known northern African ports. Some took their wares as far south as the trade winds would allow. The port at Mogadishu became the most important Muslim city on the East Coast. But despite its proximity to Kenya and Tanzania, few attempts were made to bring this thriving culture inland.

Medieval Europe's nearly unquenchable thirst for gold led to some expeditions deeper into Africa. One medieval African trade route took travelers through the city of Timbuktu, on their way to the Ivory Coast.

Medieval architecture in Africa was heavily influenced by Islamic styles, and mosques were built at Kilwa and Mogadishu, but early Christianity also had a presence on the continent, most notably in Ethiopia. The Church of St. George at Lalibela is cut directly from a rock wall.

Explorations made during the Renaissance would probe deeper into the continent as European countries began to colonize Africa.

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