This first lecture introduces the broad theme of sub-Saharan cities and settlements in the pre-1500 world. In order to deconstruct the widespread misconceptions about the absence of significant sub-Saharan cities before the arrival of the European colonizers in the continent, we will introduce and analyze three different examples of sub-Saharan settlements and their architecture. We will discuss how cities such as Kilwa, Benin, Great Zimbabwe, and M’banza Kongo became the centers of ancient network systems of power and commerce connecting with other settlements within and outside the continent. We will also analyze how architecture in these centers became the place of encounter among different traditions. This will allow us to begin to understand how continuity, modifications, and distortions took place within global exchanges. This lecture would provide a background for understanding the development of the African city in the post-1500 period.
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