Mud-Brick Buildings Resist Erosion For Centuries Testifying to Sudanese Great Civilizations

By: Mohammed Osman

Khartoum (Sudanow)- Following recent rains and flooding that hit most areas of central Sudan, particularly the national capital Khartoum, officials were quoted as opting for the discontinuation of the use of clay mud in building huts (locally known as Jaloos), citing the huge damages incurred in and around Khartoum. They argue the material used is easily soaked in inundation water, and under such circumstances, whole buildings crumbled in just few hours.1222

However, experts have a different view. They say the problem wasn’t the mud-clay per se, but, rather, it was the dis-observance of specific criteria necessary in application for this type of building, that were the Achilles tendon. They say In fact the soundness of the use of this material has very strong evidence dating back to centuries of practice. Many of the monuments that depict the great ancient Sudanese civilizations were made of mud. Sudanow met archeological professors to hear their arguments on the matter.

Deffufa of Kerma Civilization:
Dr. Hoida Mohamed Adam, professor of Archeology at the University of Khartoum, argues that the impressive two“deffufa” buildings in today’s Northern State have braved adverse climatic conditions throughout centuries up to date, notwithstanding the fact that they were built of plain mud, specifically 3,500 years ago. The word Deffufa itself, driven from the Nubian language, means mud-brick building. The Western deffufa is as high as a 4-5 storey building. Some archeologists regarded the buildings as temples while others considered them to be royal residences. Whatever be the case , the architectures of the Deffufa are unparalleled elsewhere in the ancient world according to recent excavations.


These great buildings are an offspring of the great Kerma empire, one of the overlapping Nubian civilizations (Kerma, Napata and Merawe), which archeological findings have shown to be the first civilization and first urban city in Africa. Some consider it as predating Egyptian civilization and its lifespan outlasted Egypt, Greece and Rome combined. That kingdom has occupied Egypt for close to a century forming the 25th dynasty that ruled the area stretching from the southern border at present-day Khartoum all the way north to the Mediterranean Sea.
Recent excavations of Kerma site by the Swiss archeologist Prof. Charles Bonnet are still yielding new evidences that reverse some of what were previously understood as well established facts about ancient civilizations.

Gibab (domes):
Dr. Hoida cited another example of historical mud building, the gibab or gubbas (domes) which were built in the 17th century. They spread mostly during the first Islamic state in Sudan the “Funj Sultanate or Kingdom of Sinnar” that ruled a substantial area of northeast Africa between 1504 and 1821.
The capital of the Sultanate was prosperous as trade center hosting representatives from all over the Middle East and Africa. Sinnar expanded rapidly at the expense of neighboring states, a matter that made Ethiopia and Ottoman Egypt regarding it a threat until the latter invaded its land and led to its demise.
The Kings of Sinnar were known for introducing religious revival through immigration of Muslim scholars from other countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Morocco and dispatching of students to study at al Azahar. Both Islamic Sufi sects (order) and ulema (scholars) schools of thought contributed to this revival.

When the senior religious figure of the Sufi sects dies his followers built the domes to bury him inside and visit the site occasionally. The conical shape-gibab remains to date reminding of the Funj Sultanate architecture and role in Sudan history.
Dr. Hoida says that contemporary engineers were thinking to resort to this old method of gibab building.

Mulazmeen Northern Fort:

Many mud-built structures of the relatively recent Mahadist Revolution era (1881-1898) remained intact including the Nile fortifications (taabia). Ustaz Mohamed al Amin Hayati of the Archeology Department at the University of Khartoum attributes this to regular preservation processes carried out on these sites because they are in Khartoum vicinity while so many relics have been ruined due to lack of such maintenance.

The Mulazmeen Fort, a massive building adjacent to Sudan’s National television in Omdurman-twin capital to Khartoum- stands as an example of these buildings and is seen as one of the most important defensive sites which were erected to stop the advance of the Anglo-Egyptians gun boats attacks in 1898.
It was built during the rule of Khalifa Abdu-allah Al-Taeshy, the successor of Imam Mohamed Ahmed Al-Mahdi, founder of the Mahadism movement in the Sudan and the man who led a decolonization ‘holy war” against the colonial Turco-Egyptian rule in Sudan starting new national rule. Though the invaders defeated the Khalifa and his army, killing not less than 15,000, the fort and the battle sites engraved into Sudanese literature and memories as reminders of the heroes who have offered their souls willingly to defend their land and religion.
Marfaeen al Fugra Mosque:
This mosque, in the epicenter of Abassia Quarter of Omdurman town, was previously a group of straw-huts for Quran memorization under the supervision of late Shiekh Ibrahim Nasir , of West African immigrant, who earned the name “Marfaeen al Fugara” for his high religious status, says representative of the Mosque Committee Mr. Mohamed al Jack. Then it was transferred into a mosque after the Mahadist era. All the walls, pillars, arches…..etc are built of mud but for the onlooker it looks as an elegant piece of modern architecture.


Al -Jack attributes the good shape of the mosque to the honesty and proficiency of the Shiekh followers who have laid its foundation and the regular maintenance carried out by the committee supported by the philanthropists of the area.
The Pyramids:
Though it is common knowledge that the pyramids in Egypt and hence in Sudan were built of stone, recent Western materials scientists said they have scientific evidence that the pyramids were made of mud. They were not convinced that the ancient Egyptians possessed the tools or technology to carve and haul the huge limestone blocks that made up the pyramids. They suggested that the blocks were molded in place by using a form of limestone concrete dissolved in large, Nile-fed pools and then left to evaporate, leaving behind a moist, clay-like mixture. This wet "concrete" would be carried to the construction site where it would be packed into wooden molds and left to dry. KHT1014

Some Muslim scholars who are involved in scientific miracles of Qur'an found support to this theory in a verse that tells the story of Prophet Moses and the Pharaoh which alluded to this idea.

If this theory becomes a fact in the future that will be the big-ever evidence in favour of mud building, and then Khartoumers may be able to take up their generation old technique of building huts out of mud in and around Khartoum.

Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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