Suakin, Sudan: An Account of its Recent Conservation
Hello! Welcome to this tour of the historic port of Suakin in Sudan. My name is Isabelle and I’ll be your guide. As you might have already noticed while walking about, the historic town of Suakin is in a derelict state. Most of the buildings are at various stages of decay and piles of rubble litter the island. You may be wondering why and how this happened. We will get to that, but first let me introduce the historic port.
The port consists of the mainland or al-Geyf section and the island which are connected by a causeway. For centuries Suakin was a strategic port that facilitated the flow of goods and people across the Red Sea between Africa and Asia – many of these goods and people traveled even further afield to places as distant as China. The site was occupied in ancient Egypt and trade was maintained over the centuries by the Greeks and Romans and later Arabs and Ottomans. Since the arrival of Islam in Africa, the port was also used by pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Mecca. In the early twentieth century, the island was abandoned and its buildings were left to decay. Many of the existing structures – characterized as Red Sea Style architecture in use from the 15th to 20th centuries CE – were constructed using coral blocks. This construction style requires frequent maintenance. The lack of maintenance along with the region’s climate and earthquake activity accelerated the deterioration process. For local communities, however, it is not the buildings themselves, but rather the stories and cultural practices associated with the old port that are important. Most conservation projects on the island have been initiated and funded by foreign experts and governments. The early 2000s saw a renewed interest to study and preserve the island’s famous architecture. The following tour tells the complicated story of Suakin’s conservation in recent years.
Photo: Daily Sabah (2019)
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