Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity (UNESCO, [accessed June 16, 2024]).

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Sukur Cultural Landscape_©Stéphane Douanla

Sukur or Sukur Cultural Landscape, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on a hill above the village of Sukur in the Adamawa State of Nigeria. It is situated in the Mandara Mountains, close to the border with Cameroon. Its UNESCO inscription is based on its cultural heritage, material culture, and naturally naturally-terraced fields. Sukur is Africa‘s first cultural landscape to receive a World Heritage List inscription (Brown et al., 2005).

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Terrace Farming_©Stéphane Douanla

Outstanding Universal Value (OUV)

UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre Committee came up with a concept to distinguish cultural and natural sites that hold remarkable meaning for the proletariat as a whole, known as the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).

According to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre documentation, what makes the concept of world heritage exceptional is its universal application. World Heritage sites belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located. Sukur is an ancient settlement with a recorded history of iron smelting technology, flourishing trade, and strong political institutions dating back to the 16th century (UNESCO, [accessed June 16, 2024]. 

The landscape is characterised by terraces on the farmlands, dry stone structures, and stone paved walkways. The terraced landscape at Sukur, with its hierarchical structure and combination of intensive and extensive farming, is remarkable.  In addition, it has certain exceptional features that are not to be found elsewhere, notably the use of paved tracks and the spiritual content of the terraces, with their ritual features such as sacred trees (UNESCO, [accessed June 16, 2024]).

The revered position of the Hidi as the political and spiritual head of the community is underscored by the magnificent dry stone architectural work of his palace, in and around which is a concentration of shrines, some ceramic. The villages situated on low ground below the Hidi Palace have their own characteristic indigenous architecture. Among its features are dry stone walls, used as social markers and defensive enclosures; sunken animal (principally bull) pens; granaries; and threshing floors. Groups of mud-walled thatched roofed houses are integrated by low stone walls. Of considerable social and economic importance are the wells. These are below-ground structures surmounted by conical stone structures and surrounded by an enclosure wall. Within the compound are pens where domestic animals such as cattle and sheep are fattened, either for consumption by the family or for use as prestige and status symbols used in gift and marriage exchanges. Its inscription is based on the cultural heritage of the Hidi’s Palace complex and village, material culture, and the natural terraced fields, which are in an intact condition. (UNESCO, [accessed June 16, 2024]).

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Aerial View of Sukur Cultural Landscape_©Stéphane Douanla

Criteria for Selection

According to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre List, to be included on the list, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of the ten selection criteria. The selection criteria are as follows:


to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;


to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;


to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;


to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;


to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment, especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;


to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);


to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;


to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;


to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;


to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

According to The UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Sukur Cultural Landscape meets Criteria (iii), (v), and (vi), i.e., it is an exceptional landscape that graphically illustrates a form of land-use that marks a critical stage in human settlement and its relationship with its environment; it has survived unchanged for many centuries, and continues to do so at a period when this form of traditional human settlement is under threat in many parts of the world, and it is an eloquent testimony to a strong and continuing spiritual and cultural tradition that has endured for many centuries (UNESCO, [accessed June 16, 2024]. 

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Vegetation of Sukur Cultural Landscape_©Stéphane Douanla


In February 2010, the Minister of Culture, Tourism, and National Orientation inaugurated a Management Committee. Integrating customary law and Nigeria’s decree No. 77 of 1979, the Site Management Plan for the period 2006-2011 is being used by the Committee as the guiding principle for site conservation, management, and protection (UNESCO, [accessed June 16, 2024]).

Since the inscription in 1999, all physical remains have been properly conserved by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in collaboration with the Sukur community. Annual restoration work has been carried out using traditional construction materials. Along with shrines and other sacred places, the Hidi Palace Complex is properly maintained because it is currently in use. Domestic farmlands are continually being expanded with the creation of stepped level benches adapted to hill farming. The age-long tradition of communal labour is still used to maintain paved walkways, gates, graveyards, homesteads, and house compounds (UNESCO, [accessed June 16, 2024]).

Sukur’s architecture transcends just functionality. The traditional terraced system of agriculture and its associated ritual systems are still flourishing.  The method of preservation of the cultural landscape is still very much maintained in traditional forms using traditional materials and techniques. The cultural components are still actively present in the community since they are part of their living culture. The stone structures in the form of houses, farm terraces, and walkways still remain the most distinct feature of the Sukur landscape (UNESCO, [accessed June 16, 2024]).

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Architectural Topology of Sukur_©Stéphane Douanla


Sukur’s importance is characterised by its pre-colonial architecture and the brilliantly engineered paved ways that served its people for centuries. This unique style endeared many foreign scholars who came riding on the heels of information documented in the 1850s by the explorer Heinrich Barth and several British Colonial District Officers who lived around its precinct. Sitting pretty, despite an invasion by Boko Haram insurgents in December 2014, is a walled enclosure on the plateau, approached by broad, paved walkways leading to the valley below (Ngbale, 2021).

The Sukur Cultural Centre is of great significance on cultural, historical, environmental, and even aesthetic levels. Sukur is a window to the past that showcases the thriving lives of African/Nigerian settlements pre-colonialism. This can be witnessed in the architecture and iron smelting technology of the people. The choice of materials and building structure reflects the people’s acclimatisation to their environment and cultural identity. The terraced landscape showcases an agricultural system that increased productivity and, in the same breath, mitigated the effects of erosion on the terrain. The Sukur is one of nature’s and man’s artistic masterpieces, with its diligently designed terraces, scenery, and unique blend of architectural style.

With nature providing the elements and man’s adaptability, ingenuity, and reverence for the environment, the Sukur Cultural Landscape is proof of the symbiotic harmony of man and nature. As architects and designers, our creations must strive towards such a relationship.


Brown, Jessica, et al., editors. (2005). The Protected Landscape Approach: Linking Nature, Culture and Community. IUCN–The World Conservation Union.

Ngbale, Kada. (2021, June 18). Nigeria’s Treasure Trove: Lessons from the Sukur Cultural Landscape. The Republic. https://twitter.com/renoomokri/status/1786330126034071885?lang=en (Accessed June 16, 2024)

Sukur Information Organization. (n.d.). http://sukur.info/ (Accessed June 16, 2024)

UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (n.d.). https://whc.unesco.org/en/ (Accessed June 16, 2024)

UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (n.d). The Criteria for Selection https://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/ (Accessed June 18, 2024)


Eden is a lover of design and the arts, with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a career in software engineering, she walks the fine line between design and code. Her goal in life is to create and create she shall.