Suakin (Sudan)

On the Red Sea coast of Sudan, just south of the modern harbour and town of Port Sudan, are the remains of the late-Medival city Suakin. This city once was the most important emporium on the west coast of the Red Sea and on one of the main routes of the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca:
After the buildings of the city, built of coral blocks held together with a minimum amount of mortar and wooden beams, were abandoned they quickly fell into disrepair. In 2003 all buildings, which need constant maintenance, had collapsed although some were still inhabited as recently as the 1960's:



Click here for pictures of Suakin in 1999
Objective of visit:
  To assist the Sudanese local, regional and national authorities in restoring parts of Suakin, and consolidating other parts, in order to make the site more interesting for visitors and tourists. Also, to excavate selected earlier structures and perform a survey of the environs, including the bottom of the harbour. A comparison can be made with similar sites further north, including Berenike, Marsa Nakari and Quseir.
Date of visit:
  - September/November 2003
- November/December 2004
- January 2006
Fellow visitors:
  A small team of scholars affiliated with the  McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge, the British Institute for Eastern Africa and the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences of the University of Ulster, co-directed by Michael Mallinson RIBA and Laurence Smith PhD. 
The restoration of one structure, Bayt Khorshid Effendi, was started as were the excavations of the remains of two others: 'Bayt al-Mufti' and 'Bayt al-Pasha'. An initial under-water survey of the harbour was completed, producing several complete glass vessels, whereas a beginning was made with a survey of the hinterland (the 'Geyf'). Full publication of the results is pending (Smith et al. (2012), "Archaeology and the archaeological and historical evidence for the trade of Suakin, Sudan"; in: D.A. Agius, J.P. Cooper, A. Trakadas and C. Zazzaro (eds.). Navigated Spaces, Connected Places: Proceedings of Red Sea Project V, held at the University of Exeter, September 2010, BAR International Series 2346, Oxford (Archaeopress): pp. 173-186).
Approximate position and date of the site:   Suakin is built on one of two small islands in a bay of the Red Sea. It is at one end of a desert route to the Nile Valley, ending at Berber just north of Atbara, which is thought to predate the Advent of Islam. The structures visible today are obviously of a much later date.
Short description of the site:   Despite the present dilapidated condition of most of the buildings, the former glory of the town is still evident. Most of the rough surfaces of the coral walls were hidden behind decorated plaster and worked wood. More recent buildings are made to resemble structures built of stone or even concrete. Study of the structures is at the same time hampered and enabled by the fact that little of the debris has been removed to be used elsewhere. The city gate ('Gordon's Gate') and the Hanafy mosque were the last buildings to be restored. Remarkable are the presence of several cannon within the city limits. An earthen wall and several defensive towers have been preserved on the main land. The harbour is still used by three large ferries to Jeddah (and Mecca) as well as by numerous small fishing vessels. 
Additional remarks:
My work in Sudan would not have been possible without the support of the Fayum Project and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA.