Hanafi Mosque, Suakin/Sudan
Hanafi Mosque, Suakin 2010, Foto: Mohamed Elfateh Ahmed
Municipality building, Suakin/Sudan
Municipality building, Suakin 2010, Foto: Mohamed Elfateh Ahmed
Hanafi Mosque, Suakin/Sudan
Hanafi Mosque, Suakin 2010, Foto: Mohamed Elfateh Ahmed

Creating Colonial Cities: Colonial Architecture of the Ottoman Empire in the Red Sea region

The Research:

The research discusses the Ottoman era colonial architecture in the Red Sea region, contemplating mainly architectural types and styles, besides urbanistic, social, economic, and political factors. The most interesting example of a city remaining from this period between the 16th and 20th centuries is Suakin (Sudan), a commercial town built of coral stones on a lagoon island. Other towns situated on the Red sea coasts developed in the same era:  Massawa, Jeddah, Hodeida, Assat and Mowks; some of them have disappeared, others – like Suakin – are in an advanced stage of decay. The spread of Islam to the western part of Africa produced an increase in the number of pilgrims eager to undertake the difficult journey to Mecca, and for whom Suakin, situated nearly opposite Jeddah, was the most convenient port of embarkation. Suakin had been the only Sudanese sea port before the creation of Port Sudan in 1905. By 1930 the island was abandoned. Suakin’s architecture embodies the town’s importance during history, with prestigiously styled palaces and residential buildings. The urban structure of Suakin is a particular expression of a long established regional building tradition.
The state-of-the-art classifies the historical buildings in Suakin division into two groups:
- Pre-Ottoman buildings, constructed before 1860, are influenced mainly from Jeddah. This group is in the same tradition as the architecture of Mecca and Medina .
- Post-Ottoman buildings, constructed after that date and showing European influences from Egypt during the English colonial era.
 The present research aims to precise this classification by and to embed it in an urbanistic and socio-historical context.

Main goals:

Establishment of a catalogue and register of the  historical buildings in Suakin (in progress). This catalogue constitutes a database for the classification of Suakin’s historical architecture.
Investigating the current condition and level of destruction of historical buildings and infrastructure in Suakin.
Approach to the historical role of Suakin as Sea port for the Red Sea region, based on architecture and urbanism.
Comparative investigation of the historic architecture in the Red Sea region.
Analysis of the historical relationship between the two port cities Suakin and Jeddah from an architectural angle of view.

Results / Current activities:

There is no clear break between the two historic style periods named Pre- and Post-Ottoman.
The style and type change around 1860 is a transition process.
Wood samples for dendrochronologic datation were extracted in January 2011. They are being investigated  in cooperation with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut  (Berlin), and used to establish a Sudan database.

Case studies:

Suakin (Sudan), Jeddah- Old town (Saudi Arabia)


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Klaus Rheidt


Dipl.-Ing. Mohamed Elfateh