Its wildlife and luxury lodges are legendary, but Africa is also home to an incredible array of ancient sites that offer a fascinating insight into the continent’s diverse history. From the Roman ruins of the north to the origins of humanity in the east, here are some of Africa’s most extraordinary windows to the past:

The Roman ruins of Volubilis

In the north of Morocco stand the ruins of a once-great Roman outpost, expanded under the reign of Augustus in 25 BC and ruled by a Berber king who married the daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. The ancient city of Volubilis is now one of the most important archaeological sites in Morocco and an excellent alternative to other Roman sites in countries like Libya where Australians are advised not to travel. Visitors today can explore its stone columns, triumphant arches, rows of colonnades and the elaborate mosaics that decorated the villas of the wealthy.

The rock-hewn churches of Ethiopia

In the mountainous interior of Ethiopia are a series of 11 medieval churches that were carved out of solid rock in the 13th century. Listed collectively as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela represent one of the most sacred locations in Ethiopian Christianity and remain an important site of pilgrimage. Located about 645km from the capital Addis Ababa, their construction was orchestrated by King Lalibela of Ethiopia who set out to construct a “New Jerusalem” when pilgrimages to the Holy Lands were halted by Muslim conquests.

Olduvai Gorge

As historic sites go, it’s hard to find anything older. To the north-east of the Ngorongoro Crater — Tanzania’s renowned hot-spot for African wildlife — is a craggy ravine that has revealed some of the greatest secrets of human history. The Olduvai Gorge is part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley and an important site for paleoanthropologists who have found here hundreds of fossilized bones and stone tools from the early ancestors of humans. They include Paranthropus boisei, an early hominin from between 1.4 million and 2.4 million years ago.

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