Explore Suakin from the 1900s virtually

Through providing an interactive portal, users can engage with Suakin Island as it was in 1900. 

This 3D reconstruction aims to make available some of the vitally important documentation and research about Suakin. Through providing an interactive portal, users can engage with Suakin Island as it was in 1900. Users are provided with direct access and links to digitised content about Suakin, as well as interpretation and navigation of Suakin’s historic town. This enables an experience of what was once there - something that for so many years has not been possible - bringing both meaning and understanding to one of Sudan’s greatest cultural heritages.

Particular thanks are due to the Sudan Archive Durham. The archive has protected a wealth of materials that record Suakin since the early 1900s. Tireless efforts of the archive team have secured permissions for these materials to be featured in this model by Sudan Memory. 

Suakin - The Place of all our Beginnings

As a place, Suakin has a special position in Sudanese culture, because of the memory of the beauty of the lost buildings and because it is identified with where Islam entered Sudan.  Suakin has been described by the Sudanese as ‘the place of all our beginnings’.

Suakin was formerly Sudan’s chief port, before the construction of Port Sudan.  In addition to trade, the town provided the gateway between Islamic culture and Eastern Africa as the major pilgrimage route between Africa and Mecca.  During Suakin’s period of prosperous trade, most of its famous 15-20th century coral block buildings were constructed.  These buildings are one of the best and now last remaining examples of the Red Sea architectural style. 

Suakin Islands and the Historic Town

Suakin’s natural lagoon harbour is backed by the Red Sea Hills.  The historic town consists of an island joined to the mainland by a causeway, and a mainland area known as the Geyf.  The island where you see the ruins was the main town and has been continuously inhabited for at least 500 years. The island town grew like most old towns, with irregular narrow streets and blocks of houses of different shapes and sizes.  The island properties consisted of houses for the wealthy merchants, many named after famous families such as Khorshid Effendi and Shennawi Bey, traders, commercial offices, stores and shops, zawias and mosques, and a number of public buildings.  By the early 20th century Suakin Island had approximately two hundred houses. 

Two further islands occupy the lagoon, opposite Suakin’s historic town. The first island is known as Condenser Island, occupied by British and Australian troops during the 1885-1896 Mahdist campaigns, and a tall condenser-chimney (now disappeared) that determined the island’s name. The other island is known as Quarantine Island, occupied by previous quarantine installations for pilgrims to Mecca, some early houses and a Christian cemetery. 

The adjacent historic mainland town, known as the Geyf and connected to the island by a causeway, was occupied mostly by Hadendowa tribe inhabitants, containing houses, zawias and mosques, a number of public buildings, the Suakin-Berber Railway installations, shops, shanties and drinking houses.  The Geyf was encircled by fortifications, while the area surrounding this was scattered with outer defences and a number of shrines and tombs. 

Suakin’s Decline and Documentation

Suakin was abandoned for Port Sudan in the early 1900s. The historic town is now mostly uninhabited, much of it in ruins without the constant maintenance required.  However, Suakin remains shrouded in legend and myth and contains one of Sudan’s most eventful and significant histories.  Furthermore, trade and prosperity has returned to the area, following the opening of Suakin’s new port in 1991 and subsequent growth of a surrounding new town, in addition to the continuing passenger ferry route from Suakin to Jeddah.

Despite Suakin’s regrowth, much of the historic town remained in ruins and has now almost disappeared. However, Suakin’s importance and the need for this to be saved for future generations has been well recognised. This has resulted in extensive research and documentation of the site for many years, including great efforts of the Suakin Project established by Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums in 2000. It is this documentation and research that the following 3D reconstruction hopes to bring to light, in addition to inspiring hope and whatever plans may come for Suakin’s future.



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