Madana ruins - A view from our expert author

Dotted around the dry Somali interior, these mysterious medieval Islamic ruins are some of the finest Africa has to offer.

The enigmatic abandoned Islamic city of Maduna, near El Afweyn, is the most substantial and impressive accessible ruin of its type in Somaliland. It’s most important feature is a large rectangular mosque, the 3m-high walls of which are still intact and contain a mihrab along with perhaps a dozen smaller arched niches. This central building is surrounded by several dozen old houses, most of which still have partially intact walls, and the baobab on the slope immediately below is sufficiently large to suggest it was planted when the city was still inhabited.

An aura of mystery overhangs Maduna – unsurprisingly, perhaps, when so little is known about its history. The dry-stone architectural style suggests that the ruined city was a contemporary of Amoud and Abasa, so presumably it once formed part of the Adal Sultanate. As far as we know, however, the site has never been excavated and no historical records pertaining to it survive. Also perplexing, according to archaeologist Sada Mire’s article in World Archaeology, are several ‘dome-shaped structures without doors or windows’ whose ‘only entrance was via a small opening at the top’. Mire suggests these rooms may have been prison cells of some type, but we can only speculate.

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