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They attracted large numbers of traders and migrants from their own hinterlands and generally also included "stranger quarters" for migrants of other regions and nations.
In the south, the rise of the Yoruba expansionist city-states and of Benin and others was stimulated by trade to the coast, and by competition among these growing urban centers for the control of their hinterlands and of the trade from the interior to the Atlantic (including the slave trade).
In the north, the great urban centers of Kano, Katsina, Zaria, Sokoto, the early Borno capitals (Gazargamo and Kuka), and other cities served as entrepts to the Saharan and trans-Saharan trade, and as central citadels and political capitals for the expanding states of the northern savanna.
During the medieval period, two earthen rampart walls were erected around the city center, making Ile-Ife what archaeologists call a fortified settlement.
The royal center had a circumference of about 2.5 miles, and its inner-most wall encircles an area of some three square miles.
Ile-Ife (pronounced EE-lay EE-fay), and known as Ife or Ife-Lodun is an ancient urban center, a Yoruba city in Osun state in southwestern Nigeria, about 135 northeast of Lagos.
First occupied at least as early as the 1st millennium CE, it was most populous and important to the Ife culture during the 14th and 15th centuries CE, and it is considered the traditional birthplace of the Yoruba civilization, of the latter part of the African Iron Age.In two areas, the Yoruba region in the southwest and the Hausa-Fulani and Kanuri areas of the north, there were numbers of cities with historical roots stretching back considerably before the advent of British colonizers, giving them distinctive physical and cultural identities.