From Cairo to Timbuktu: A Virtual Tour of Lost Kingdoms of Africa (55+)

Amazing monuments, UNESCO World Heritage sites and sublime natural beauty—Africa has it all. On our virtual tour you’ll discover the pyramid fields of Sudan, Ethiopia’s magnificent medieval churches, an ancient Islamic scholarly centre on the edge of the Sahara Desert and the incredibly well preserved futurist architecture of Asmara, capital of Eritrea.

Each week we’ll view a multi-image presentation that evokes Africa’s immense diversity, and we’ll discuss the geography, culture, history, religion, crafts and cuisine of Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Mali. The instructor, recently returned from a lengthy sojourn in various African countries, will share sightseeing highlights, curious anecdotes and some of the secrets each place has to offer. Potential travellers to the region will gain a useful, deeper understanding of its subtleties.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, you should be able to do the following:

  • Describe your visual impression of points of interest within the countries covered
  • Give examples of the intangible heritage and cultures of the countries covered
  • Describe several cities, UNESCO World Heritage sites and natural landscapes in these countries
  • Challenge stereotypes commonly held about these countries
  • Give examples of insights useful to travellers to these countries

Learning methods

You will learn through lecture with time for questions and answers (may vary from class to class). For Liberal Arts Certificate for 55+ students: you will write a reflective essay.


Week 1: Egypt

Egypt is one of the oldest tourist destinations on earth; the ancient Greeks and Romans came here to admire its magnificent monuments. We cover all the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Egypt. We explore the Christian and Islamic legacies in Cairo; see the archaeological wonders of Ancient Egypt in Giza, Saqqara, Memphis, Thebes, Luxor, Abu Simbel, Dendara and Abydos. Along the way we explore the stark duality between fertility and desolation along the Valley of the Nile. We also discover the whale fossils in Wadi Al-Hitan in the Western Desert of Egypt. We then head to the Sinai Peninsula, crossing the Suez Canal to visit the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Catherine, which stands at the foot of Mount Horeb where, the Old Testament records, Moses received the Tablets of the Law.

Week 2: Sudan

Sudan comes as a fantastic surprise, as the Sudanese are among the friendliest and most hospitable people on earth. And, although various ongoing conflicts mean part of this vast nation is off-limits, the northeast is one of the safest places in the world. We showcase Khartoum, where two Niles become one, the labyrinthine souks of Omdurman and the ecstatic dances of the Sufi dervishes. As we travel along the Nile in Nubia, we explore the ruins of the ancient Kingdom of Kush. We get to see the amazing pyramid fields of Meroe, Jebel Barkal, El-Kurru and Nuri, only to realize that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt! We also get to see sites of the early Nubian civilization of Kerma, which flourished from around 2500 BCE to 1500 BCE, and ancient Christian sites around Old Dongola. The multi-image presentation concludes with a kaleidoscopic look at amazing variety of cultures and people of Sudan.

Week 3: Northern Ethiopia

Ethiopia goes back to the very beginning of human existence and features a wealth of historical sites without parallel in sub-Saharan Africa. We explore several cultural highlights, such as lively Addis Ababa; the monasteries of Lake Tana; Tigray's remarkable rock-hewn churches; the giant obelisks in Axum; the medieval castles of Gondar; and the ancient rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. We also witness the elaborate Ethiopian Christmas celebrations held by the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Ethiopia features incredible natural landscapes, dominated by a high central plateau that falls away abruptly into the chasm of the Great Rift Valley. Here we see the Blue Nile waterfalls; endemic wildlife such as Gelada baboons in the Simien Mountains, and the Danakil Depression, which features other-worldly geological landscapes that resulted from the divergence of three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa.

Week 4: Southern Ethiopia

We explore Southern Ethiopia. Discover the unique and fascinating fusion of African and Middle Eastern influences in Harar Jugol, an old walled city located in Eastern Ethiopia. We continue to the World Heritage sites of the Tiya Stelae Field and the Cultural Landscape of Konso. We then witness the elaborate Timkat celebrations, the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of the Epiphany in the Oromia Region.

We head to a string of beautiful lakes that characterize the southern Rift Valley, stretching down towards the Kenyan border. We explore the Omo Valley, home to a diverse and fascinating range of villages, and to some of Africa’s most fascinating ethnic groups. We explore traditional Dorze, Mursi, Karo and Daasanach villages; and witness the Hamer people performing a Jumping of the Bulls coming of age ceremony.

Week 5: Eritrea

Eritrea is one of the most secretive countries in Africa, going through tough political and economic times, yet Eritrea is one of the most inspiring destinations in Africa. We visit Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. This UNESCO World Heritage city features incredibly well-preserved modernist architecture created by Italian architects. We get to see the lively atmosphere of the Monday camel market in Keren and experience a vintage train ride on the Eritrean Railway, constructed between 1887 and 1932 by the Kingdom of Italy. We also will see Massawa, a historical and important port for many centuries, located on the Red Sea. The city unfortunately is in quite a dilapidated state since the Eritrean War of Independence (and reminded me of my visits to Afghanistan). The multi-image presentation concludes with a kaleidoscopic look at amazing variety of cultures and people of Eritrea.

Week 6: Mali

Mali, once West Africa's greatest merchant empire, conjures up a spirit of adventure, of tiny villages and encounters with tribal peoples. Here we discover Bamako, the capital and the ancient trading port of Djenne with its scenic market. We then head the Dogon country, a wilderness of rock, shrub and barren sands set in the Bandiagara Escarpment, We then explore the shores of the Niger River in a pinasse (a canvas-roofed motorized boat) to travel from Mopti to Timbuktu, cruising one of the world's greatest rivers. Finally, we arrive in Timbuktu and explore the winding alleys of this intriguing city, once a famous centre on the lucrative trans-Saharan caravan route, wealthy from trade in cargoes of gold and salt.

Books, materials and resources

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

Academic integrity and student conduct

You are expected to comply with Simon Fraser University’s Academic Integrity and Student Conduct Policies. Please click here for more details. Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety, and freedom from harassment and discrimination.

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