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Transmitting and documenting the vernacular architecture of the Asante Traditional Buildings (Ghana) 

Published in 2021, a new edition of the 1999 reference publication “Asante Traditional Buildings” updates and expands this important record of their outstanding architecture, making it once again available for the public. The publication aims to strengthen the skills of heritage professionals and to support the development of sustainable heritage tourism. 

About the Asante Traditional Buildings

Near Kumasi, in central Ghana, a group of traditional buildings are the last remaining testimony of the great Asante civilization, which reached its peak in the 18th century. The buildings include ten shrines/fetish houses in different villages near Kumasi. They stand as the last remaining testimony of the unique architectural style of the great Asante Kingdom. The traditional motifs of its rich bas-relief decoration are imbued with symbolic meaning.  

The Asante Kingdom was known for transmitting its culture through Adinkra symbols carved in sacred areas, rather than through writings in scriptures. These designs have deep symbolic and philosophical meanings, reflecting the ideas and values of the Asante people, and have been passed down from generation to generation. To this day, the Asante shrines are used for consultations with the deities to seek advice before making important decisions which reinforce a complex and intricate technical, religious and spiritual heritage.

The Asante Traditional Buildings were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980 for their Outstanding Universal Value under criterion (V). 

The integrity of the heritage site is threatened by impacts of climatic, geological and other environmental factors. This includes the deterioration of the fabric due to the warm and humid tropical climate that is damaging to traditional earth and wattle-and-daub buildings. Three State of Conservation Reports on the property were presented to the World Heritage Committee between 1996 and 1999.

Transmitting and documenting the vernacular architecture of the Asante Traditional Buildings (Ghana) 

Context: exhibition and first publication 

At its twentieth session (1996), the World Heritage Committee was concerned by the inadequate level of resources available for the conservation of the fragile Asante Traditional Buildings and recommended the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB) to prepare comprehensive conservation and site management plans (Decision: CONF 202 IV.7).

In 1997, a mission financed by CRAterre – EAG revealed that important restoration works were carried out during the 1960s without scientific, documented research on almost all the classified buildings, and found a management framework which forbade the local population to intervene in the maintenance of the buildings. Following these findings, the World Heritage Committee approved at its twenty-first session (1997) a request for international assistance for a total of US $ 47,000. Alarmed by the necessary emergency work required and following an official request from the authorities concerned, a further US$ 20,000 were allocated. The funds were used to carry out a rapid study of the state of all the sites and a training workshop seminar by CRAterre - EAG. Local craftsmen and village workers were trained during this course, partially on the basis of community participation. Following this training session, the local Ghana Museums and Monuments Board service organised similar workshops at six other sites (1997 State of Conservation Report). The programme was reinforced by technical assistance provided by the French Embassy in Ghana. 

It was in the context of this programme that an exhibition and booklet were developed by Ghana Museums and Monuments within the Africa 2009 In Situ Programme (UNESCO, ICCROM, CRAterre-EAG). The booklet was prepared by the Ghana Museum and Monuments Board and CRAterre experts. The publication includes an overview of the history and culture of the Asante people, as well as detailed documentation of the vernacular architecture buildings, their symbology and construction techniques, through explanatory texts and analysis, drawings and photographs. It also includes a section on best practices for conservation. 

The booklet was officially launched by the Asantehene (the King of Asante) and the French Ambassador, with the support of the Embassy of France to Ghana and the Alliance Française Kumasi. The printing was funded by private companies ELF-Oil Ghana Ltd, Novotel and CFAO Ghana Ltd. 1,500 copies were provided to the regional office of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, as a way of reinforcing the revolving fund established with the edition of postcards and T-shirts. The sales of the products were designed to contribute to the economic sustainability of the sites (1999 State of Conservation Report).

Author: Thierry Joffroy © CRA-terre
© Sébastien Moriset

Second publication 
A revised second edition of “Asante Traditional Buildings” was published in 2021 as part of the Sankofa Project, sponsored by the French Embassy in Kumasi, Ghana.

About the Sankofa project 

UNESCO is collaborating with the French Embassy on the component most relevant to World Heritage sites which includes awareness raising on the Asante Traditional Buildings and on-going labelling of all World Heritage sites in Ghana with correct signage.  

The Sankofa project has three components:  

  • strengthen the skills and initial training in the heritage, tourism and hospitality sector, 
  • participate in the creation of development conditions of sustainable heritage tourism (advocacy, support to civil society organisations, training of professionals, development of museums’ resources), and
  • Project management.

The revised publication aims to regenerate interest in the traditional architecture found at the Asante Traditional Buildings World Heritage site and motivate students and researchers towards sustainable development. The edition was prepared by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB) and UNESCO National Office for Ghana with the support of the Embassy of France to Ghana. 

More than twenty years after the first edition, the re-publication under the Sankofa project aims to strengthen the skills of heritage professionals and support Ghana in promoting sustainable heritage tourism. It makes the publication freely available online with new forewords and epilogue, and revised content. The revised publication includes new forewords by the Acting Executive Director of the GMMB, Mr Ivor Agyeman-Duah; UNESCO Representative to Ghana, Mr Abdourahamane Diallo; and the French Ambassador to Ghana H.E. Anne Sophie Avé. It also includes an epilogue by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board with new findings since the last publication.

The publication “Asante Traditional Buildings” serves as a reminder of their importance to our lives, identities, and communities as well as future generations. It also contributes to the 2021 African Union Year of Arts, Culture and Heritage.


Contribution towards the implementation of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape

The project aims to contribute to the implementation of the Historic Urban Landscape approach by:

  • Documenting tangible and intangible aspects of urban cultural heritage, including vernacular architecture. 
  • Promoting the dissemination and raising awareness of cultural heritage values.

Historic Urban Landscape Tools

Knowledge and Planning tools

Contribution towards Sustainable Development

If fully implemented in accordance with the described plans, the initiative could contribute towards Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

  • Target 8.9: the publication aims to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products.

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

  • Target 11.4: the publication aims to contribute to the safeguarding of the world’s cultural heritage 

Note: the described potential impacts of the projects are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. UNESCO does not endorse the specific initiatives nor ratifies their positive impact.

To learn more

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UNESCO National Office for Ghana (UNESCO Accra)

  • Address: 4 Nortsoo Street, North Dzorwulu, Accra, Ghana
  • Phone: +233 302 740 840
  • Email: accra@unesco.org
  • Website: unesco.org/fieldoffice/accra

Ghana Museums and Monuments Board

© UNESCO, 2021. Project team: Jyoti Hosagrahar, Alba Zamarbide, Carlota Marijuán Rodríguez, Carl Ampah.
Cover image: section of Bodwise shrine included in publication Asante Traditional Buildings

Note: The cases shared in this platform address heritage protection practices in World Heritage sites and beyond. Items being showcased in this website do not entail any type of recognition or inclusion in the World Heritage list or any of its thematic programmes. The practices shared are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The views expressed by experts and site managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre. The practices and views shared here are included as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on heritage conservation with a view to further urban heritage management practice in general.