Nubia is an ancient regionin north-eastern Africa, referring to the people living along the Nile connectingsouthern Egypt to what is now Central Sudan. The origin of the name Nubia isdebatable as some claim that it derived from the word ‘nebu’, an ancient Egyptianword that means gold. Some believe that the term originates from European atlasmakers who referenced Claudius Ptolemaeus, an astrologist and others trust thatit is linked with ‘Noubades’ which is a Greek name describing the people whomigrated into northern Nubia around the 4th century AD.
It is uncertainwhere the true origin of the name Nubia comes from. Nubia is historicallyremarkable in many aspects, providing significant knowledge on human history, interiors,architecture, art, science and many other topics. It is home to some ofAfrica’s oldest Kingdoms and there is more enduring evidence revealingknowledge on human history and time than any other continent. Historicalevidence of early civilisation records back to the Kingdom of Kush, which is located atthe confluences of the Blue Nile, White Nile and River Atbara in what are now Sudan and South Sudan. Ultimately, whenmentioning Nubia and its architecture, it is important to acknowledge Ali Mazrui’sconcept of the triple heritage that suggests Africa’s history is sourced fromthe Indigenous, Western and Islamic legacies. This concept covers Africanarchitecture from ancient time to modern day and it is to no surprise thatAfrica’s mix of three heritages is a reason for being able to know more aboutthe past than from other continents. The triple heritage began with theintrusion of the Romans and was completed with the introduction of Islam.
Sudanis a prime example of Mazrui’s triple heritage concept as many of the hundredsof indigenous languages and cultures are preserved and practiced, resistingboth Islamic and western influences that came after and ancient religious conflictsstill dominate over cultural, political and economic aspects. In ‘African Architecture’ by Nnamdi Elleh,the author writes: “There is nothing wrong with a new kind of architecture thatovershadows an underdeveloped architecture, but architecture is more thanbuildings. It is also a reflection of the behavioural, historical, religious, political,and environmental existential life of a people.
” I find that thVernacular architecture, by definition is an “architecturalstyle that is designed based on local needs, availability of constructionmaterials and reflecting local traditions.” Ancient Nubian Vernacular architecturesare generally built from raw brick and clay. The traditional thick walls andsmall openings for ventilation cool the are designed to adapt to hightemperatures and semi-desert climate.
Nubia’stemperature and climate is almost if not always hot, humid and dry so themanner in which traditional Nubian buildings are built are based on creating,comfortable and safe environments. Ancient Nubian architecture isenvironmentally, socially and economically efficient as the raw brick and claycladding create thermal comfort and the use of natural and local materialsallows it to be sustainable. Many of ancient Nubian homes were built in collectionsof rows back-to-back in order to maximise the use of space and minimise the useof materials.
This however, meant that ventilation was an issue and heat wasconfined inside the rooms due to the layout of half the houses facing north andthe rest facing south. Unfortunately, when describing a traditional African house like the many Vernaculararchitectures found in Nubia as well as other east and west African countries,words such as mud and clay are used and although these are the correct terms ofthe materials used for build, these terms hold such derogatory tones that implypoor, low quality and impracticality. These negative connotations derive fromdistorted perceptions of people who don’t know of or understand the history andheritage of these structures.
A significant period for Khartoum’s architecture and interiorsis around 1898, during the invasion and colonisation by the British andEgyptians. Because of this, Khartoum began to have a change in the style of thebuildings that were constructed, heavily influenced by the British. Some examplesinclude the government offices, Khartoum University and The British Council. Personally,I find defining Nubian architecture to be difficult when involving colonisation.For example, Khartoum University that was previously named Gordon MemorialCollege, could it be considered Nubian architecture. Are the location and theusers of the space enough for the building to be referred to as Nubian or doesthe fact that it was founded by Lord Kitchener, in memory of Gordon of Khartoumprevent it from being considered Nubian architecture in any way, despite itbeing acclaimed after Sudan gained independence.
Ancient Nubian settlements in Egypt were able to be preservedto due being isolated from Egyptian society and therefore preventing them frombeing affected by other traditions and values that differ to them or came after.However, in 1963, many of the precious historic treasures were lost to a floodwhich was the third time to occur. As a result of this, some Nubian villagesmoved to resettle further north of Egypt.
There are some differences in thelayout and size between different tribes of Nubians. The Fadija people, forexample, had more of a square layout to their homes. The houses were large andspacious with an open central courtyard that could be used for any climate. ContemporarySudanese Nubian architecture is unique in that the houses often have a spaciousfront and back or central courtyard that is closed off from others by a highwall the circulates around the shape of the house, a way for protecting andhaving privacy. The interior and exteriorof these Nubian structures are also decorated with colour, shapes and symbolsthat hold meaning to the family living in the house.
This personaliseddecoration of Nubian houses is a modern addition to cultural traditions.