Schlagwort-Archive: Afrika

Strongholds of Political Power, Strongholds of Resistance

Securing monumental structures on the Zimbabwe plateau and adjacent regions (1100-1900 AD)


ATTENTION! New  appointment! Scheduled now on 3rd June!



Interdisciplinary lecture series

of the Marburger Arbeitskreises für europäische Burgenforschung e.V., Germany, and Aarhus University, research programme “Materials, Culture and Heritage”, Denmark

6th meeting

When: Friday, June 3, 2022

Entry: 12:30 CET. Begin: 13:00 CET

Topic: Strongholds of Political Power, Strongholds of Resistance: Securing monumental structures on the Zimbabwe plateau and adjacent regions (1100-1900 AD)

Register in advance for this webinar:

When: Friday, May 06, 2022

Entry: 12:30 CET. Begin: 13:00 CET

Topic: Strongholds of Political Power, Strongholds of Resistance: Securing monumental structures on the Zimbabwe plateau and adjacent regions (1100-1900 AD)

Or on H.323/SIP room sestem:

H.323: or

Meeting ID: 659 0349 4238

SIP: 65903494238@ or 65903494238@

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.


Innocent Pikirayi, PhD

Department of Anthropology, Archaeology and Development Studies, University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0028, SOUTH AFRICA


Strongholds of Political Power, Strongholds of Resistance:

Securing monumental structures on the Zimbabwe plateau and adjacent regions (1100-1900 AD)

During the early second millennium AD, the Zimbabwe Tradition, a settlement system synonymous with state-level societies developed on the Zimbabwe plateau and adjacent regions. Characterised by monumental stone-walled structures, antiquarians and early archaeologists interpreted these as ‘forts’, linked to long-distance trade. Referring to early sixteenth century Great Zimbabwe, Portuguese chronicler João de Barros remarked that it “is guarded by a nobleman, who has charge of it, after the manner of a chief alcaide, and they call this officer Symbacayo ….” Alcaide is an Iberian term borrowed from Arabic al-qāʼid, meaning commander of fort or castle. I employ the concept of ‘stronghold’ beyond European understandings of Medieval fortifications or castles, to denote power and understand how monumental structures served ruling elites. European concepts of defence cannot be applied to understand the construction and function of sites such as Great Zimbabwe.

With European expansion into the African interior after 1500 AD, the same region witnessed both European and local strongholds (‘loopholed forts’), the latter constructed to resist Portuguese attacks. These were ‘strongholds of resistance’. To survive European siege warfare, these strongholds also used European weaponry. The term ‘Refuge Tradition’, was an unsuccessful attempt by some archaeologists to characterise the rise of hilltop and fortified settlements from 1700 to the onset of British rule in 1890.


Our speaker

Innocent Pikirayi, PhD

Innocent Pikirayi made his BA in History, an MA in African History an his PhD in Archaeology.

From 2010 to 2019, Innocent Pikirayi served as Professor in Archaeology and Chair in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Pretoria. He is now Professor and Deputy Dean responsible for Postgraduate Studies and Research Ethics in the Faculty of Humanities at the same university. In 2019, he was Visiting Professor in Archaeology at the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet) at Aarhus University in Denmark. He is also serving as Honorary Research Associate of the McDonald Institute, University of Cambridge, for three years until 30th September 2023.

Innocent Pikirayi serves as advisors to the following journals in archaeology and the broader humanities: Azania: Archaeological in Africa (Routledge), African Archaeological Review (Springer), Antiquity: A Review of World Archaeology, The Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology, and the African Humanities Publication (AHP) Series (Carnegie Corporation).

Innocent Pikirayi is a member of the World Archaeological Congress (WAC), the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA), the Shanghai Archaeology Forum (SAF), the Association of Southern African Professional Archaeologists (ASAPA), the South African Archaeological Society (ArchSoc), the Integrated History and Future of People on Earth (IHOPE), and the Academy of Science South Africa (ASSAf).


Select References on Great Zimbabwe:

Bent, J. T. 1896. The ruined cities of Mashonaland. London: Spottiswoode.

Beach, D. N. 1988. ‘Refuge’ archaeology, trade and gold mining in nineteenth-century Zimbabwe: Izidoro Correia Pereira’s list of 1857. Zimbabwean Prehistory 20, 3-8.

Garlake, P. S. 1973. Great Zimbabwe. London: Thames and Hudson.

Pikirayi, I. 2000. Wars, violence and strongholds: an overview of fortified settlements in northern Zimbabwe. Journal of Peace, Conflict and Military Studies 1 (1), 1-12.

Pikirayi, I. 2009. Palaces, Feiras and Prazos: An Historical Archaeological Perspective of African–Portuguese Contact in Northern Zimbabwe. African Archaeological Review 26 (3), 163-185.

Pikirayi, I. 2013. Stone architecture and the development of power in the Zimbabwe tradition AD 1270-1830. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 48 (2), 282-300.

Randall-MacIver, D. 1906. Medieval Rhodesia. London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd.


Six principal and relevant publications by Pikirayi:

Pikirayi, I. and Magoma, M. 2021. Retrieving Intangibility, Stemming Biodiversity Loss: The Case of Sacred Places in Venda, Northern South Africa. Heritage, 4, 4524–4541.

Kusimba, C.M. and Pikirayi, I. 2020. A Conversation with Peter Ridgway Schmidt, the Ṣango of African Archaeology. African Archaeological Review 37, 185–223,

Pikirayi, I. 2017. Ingombe Ilede and the demise of Great Zimbabwe. Antiquity: A Review of World Archaeology 91 (318), 1085-1086,

Pikirayi, I. 2018. Investigating Complexity: Great Zimbabwe from a Multidisciplinary Perspective. In Ekblom, A., Isendahl, C. and Lindholm, K-J (eds). The Resilience of Heritage: Cultivating a Future of the Past – Essays in Honour of Professor Paul J.J. Sinclair. Uppsala University: African and Comparative Archaeology, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, 83-100.

Pikirayi, I. 2019. Local narratives, regional histories and the demise of Great Zimbabwe. In Schmidt, P. and Kehoe, A. B. (eds). Archaeologies of Listening. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 131-153.

Pikirayi, I. 2019. Sustainability and an archaeology of the future. Antiquity: A Review of World Archaeology 93 (372), 1669-1671,

Sulas, F. and Pikirayi, I. (eds). 2018. Water and Ancient Societies: Resilience, decline and revival. New York and London: Routledge.


Alexandria’s Urban Fortifications under Mamluk and Ottoman Rule

Strongholds of the World Lecture Series, Part 3 – now online on youtube! See beyond!

with Dr. Kathrin Machinek, Alexandria

Interdisciplinary lecture series of the Marburger Arbeitskreises für europäische Burgenforschung e.V., Germany, and Aarhus University, research programme “Materials, Culture and Heritage”, Denmark

Alexandria, fort Qaitbay

Alexandria’s urban fortifications under Mamluk and Ottoman rule

This session from our lecture series “Strongholds of the World” sheds light upon the defense systems of the Mamluk and Ottoman period Alexandria. Alexandria, Egypt’s main seaport on the Mediterranean shore, was often praised by travelers from the past for its impressive fortifications. Nowadays, only few remnants exist of the former urban defense system, the city walls, forts and watchtowers having almost entirely been demolished in the late 19th century by the rapidly expanding modern city.

As a coastal border town, medieval Alexandria was constantly a target for enemy invasions, thus the various Islamic rulers kept renovating and modernizing the fortifications. After the disastrous raid of Alexandria by the Cypriots in 1365, the Mamluk sultans repaired the damages and established new strongholds. In 1477, the entrance to the Eastern harbor was secured by a new majestic fortress, constructed on the ruins of the famous ancient lighthouse.

After the conquest of Mamluk Egypt by the Ottomans in 1516, Alexandria was located within the territory dominated by the Sublime Porte and therefore less exposed to seaborne attacks. The citizens started to settle outside the city walls between the two harbors and abandoned the old town intra muros. Nevertheless, the Ottoman governors preserved the urban fortifications and added new forts in the harbor zone.

Our Speaker:

Dr. Kathrin Machinek, research engineer at the French CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), is working as a building historian at the Centre d’Études Alexandrines, USR 3134, in Alexandria/ Egypt, under the direction of Dr. Marie-Dominique Nenna. []

She obtained a Phd in architecture at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany: « The Qaitbay fort in Alexandria – History and Architecture of a Mamluk fortress in the urban defense system of Alexandria » []

 Research themes:

  • Military history and fortifications of Alexandria
  • Islamic fortifications from the Middle Ages to modern time
  • Medieval and Ottoman Alexandria
  • Mamluk architecture
  • Archaeological excavations at fort Qaitbay and fort Tabiyet Nahassin in Alexandria
  • Features of Pharaonic architecture in Alexandria

Short Bibliography:

  1. Machinek 2020, « Deux citernes hypostyles dans le fort Qaitbay (Alexandrie) », in M.-D. Nenna (ed.), Alexandrina 5, ÉtAlex 50, Alexandria, 2020, p. 439-464 (to go to press).
  2. Machinek 2018, « Alexandria – Ottoman fortifications in a Mediterranean trading town », Symposium Fortifications of the Ottoman period in the Aegean, Ephorate of Lesbos, 30th October – 31st October 2018, p. 239-250 (to go to press).
  3. Machinek 2015, « Aperçu sur les fortifications médiévales d’Alexandrie. Histoire, architecture et archéologie », in M. Eychenne, A. Zouache (ed.), La guerre dans le Proche-Orient: État de la question, lieux communs, nouvelles approches, RAPH 37, Cairo, Damascus, 2015, p. 363-394.
  4. Machinek 2014, « Hygiene in islamischen Festungsbauten », in O. Wagener (ed.), Aborte im Mittelalter und der Frühen Neuzeit – Bauforschung, Archäologie, Kulturgeschichte, Studien zur internationalen Architektur- und Kunstgeschichte117, Petersberg, 2014, p. 292-301.
  5. Machinek 2014, Das Fort Qaitbay in Alexandria – Baugeschichte und Architektur einer mamlukischen Hafenfestung im mittelalterlichen Stadtbefestigungssystem von Alexandria, PhD thesis, submitted at the Department of Architecture, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in 2014.
  6. Machinek 2010, « Der Wandel der Stadtbefestigung Alexandrias vom Mittelalter bis in die Gegenwart », in O. Wagener (ed.), vmbringt mit starcken turnen, murn – Ortsbefestigungen im Mittelalter, Beihefte zur Mediaevistik15, Frankfurt a.M., 2010, p. 431-450.
  7. Machinek 2009, Le fort Qaitbay, Les petits guides d’Alexandrie, Alexandria, 2009, edition in English, French and Arabic.