Serving as the capital of Ivory Coast since 1983, Yamoussoukro is both outlandish and forlorn, deemed as a ghost town where entire layouts of quarters are recognizable merely by their semi paved roads. Despite Yamoussoukro’s official status as a capital, some governmental institutions like the national assembly still reside in the country’s economic center and former capital, Abidjan, further branding this city as an unfulfilled fantasy. While the vision of Yamoussoukro hasn’t come into fruition yet, several mega projects have been constructed in the last decades, making the city a fascinating mosaic of monumental architecture and gloomy dilapidation.
The striking contrast between Yamoussoukro’s dingy streets and its ambitious attempt to become a prominent capital city couldn’t be better reflected than with the case of the largest church in the world, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.
Completed in 1990, the basilica is modeled after the glorious St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, yet with larger proportions and a dome more than double the diameter, it overwhelmingly eclipses its source of inspiration.
The church has maximum capacity of 18,000 people, including a room for 7,000 worshipers in the nave, however, the average number of visitors rarely exceeds few hundreds, as the grandiose building is located outside of the downtown area, in a city that was never really considered as an international tourist hotspot.
Built with marble that was entirely imported from Italy, the Basilica’s immense cost, which some figures even put it as high as half a billion US dollars, triggered a widespread controversy nationwide, after all, this expression of vanity took place in a country where roughly 50 percent of the population lives on less than 3$ a day.
Regardless of its controversial role, the Godzilla-sized church is incredibly impressive and definitely unskippable, leaving even the most experienced sightseers jaw-dropped.
photography by: Erik Cleves Kristensen
Ivory coast is an extremely diverse country, both ethnically and religiously, with roughly 40 percent of Ivorians adhere to the Islamic faith. While the capital relocation had many intended goals, a prominent one was to create a neutral place that better represents the various cultures that constitute this heterogeneous nation, including Muslims. Therefore, the country’s first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, commissioned the construction of a formidable grand mosque in the heart of Yamoussoukro, that despite its modest size relative to the basilica and other governmental buildings, still manages to stand out as a major iconic landmark.
One of the striking things about the mosque is its ability to be appealing in more than one way, firstly, as a notable element in the city’s skyline, secondly, its remarkable latticed façade can be appreciated at a closer distance, and thirdly, a visit to the mosque interior parts is a great opportunity to witness the worshipers exercising their religious duties.
Interestingly, the many tiles adorning the columns within the mosque were imported from Morocco, whereas the casted iron for the mosque’s giant doors was made in France, both of which were merely a small part of the overall building operation, conducted by the skillful mason, El Hadj Balla, whose tomb is located at the mosque’s courtyard.
Take note that any visit to the grand mosque requires taking off your shoes upon entrance, while women are also obliged to cover their heads with a veil.
photography by: Office National du Tourisme CIV
Starring as the villain in countless horror movies, crocodiles are often perceived as intimidating beasts in many cultures throughout the world. However, among the dominant ethnic group around Yamoussoukro, the Baoule, the mighty monsters are venerated. According to the legend, the Baoule people who originated in Ghana fled their homeland due to persecution, managed to cross the river on their way to Ivory Coast thanks to a seamless row of crocodiles serving as a live bridge.
The Ivorian first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who was a member of the Baoule ethnic group, revived this old tradition of reverence by constructing three crocodile-infested artificial lakes surrounding the presidential palace, that was now symbolically guarded by those sacred animals.
Over the years, the Nile crocodiles, each weighting almost one ton, and their daily feeding routine at 5PM made them a mind-boggling attraction for local Ivorians and the handful of tourists who visit the city.
Sadly, in 2012, the crocodiles’ famed master, Toké Dicko, was killed in a gruesome incident when during the feeding session he slipped over and devoured by one of the ferocious creatures, resulting in much stricter safety precautions ever since.
photography by: Clément Bucco-Lechat
It’s difficult to overstate how much the presidency of Ivory Coast’s first leader, Felix Huphey Boigne, shaped the country for many years to come. Perhaps one of his most prominent legacies was the relentless pursue for peace, a sort of personal obsession that gave rise to the Foundation for the search for peace in 1973.
Four years after its inception, the foundation had its gargantuan headquarters that was built for over a decade. The foundation’s headquarters were officially inaugurated in 1997 under the auspices of UNESCO, and while its goals remained somewhat vague, the building’s dominance in Yamoussoukro cityscape is absolutely unignorable.
The complex has four entrances ordered by the four cardinal directions and consists of two main buildings, the larger of which is an intimidating giant rectangular structure facing a 400 meters long plaza, adorned with quaint lighting poles aligned along a marble paved avenue. The rectangular edifice is home to the foundation’s administrative and technical branches while the octagonal building behind is where conferences and meetings take place.
Both buildings are extravagantly embellished with colossal semi decorative columns, flamboyant chandeliers and glossy floor tiles, coalescing together into a large-scale display of power and grandeur, mitigated only the architecture’s orthogonal geometry.
You’ll be glad to learn that the headquarters are opened for visitors, as 1,500 CFA franc tours guided by the security staff are available at the reception.
photography by: Zenman
You’ve probably concluded by now that every major building in Yamoussoukro was either built or inspired by the country’s first president. Therefore, it might sound slightly bothersome to discuss about yet another grandiose architectural complex that carries Boigne’s name, however, in contrary to the other aforementioned sites, the National Polytechnic Institute’s main campus in the outskirts of Yamoussoukro has a real and substantial purpose, namely, educating the next generation of Ivorians.
The Institute was founded in 1966, following the merging of four prominent academic schools, the National School of Agronomy, the National School of Public Works, Bouaké Institute of Agriculture and the National Advanced Technical Training Institute.
The institute is located in the city’s northern periphery, next to Djaakro Village, and comprised of three campuses, north, central and south, separated by a lake and a lush woodland.
You might wonder why an academic institution in Yamoussoukro’s suburban parts is worth visiting, and the simple answer is that the same grandiose, unrestrained and intriguing architectural features that make the city an African version of Pyongyang are abundantly peppered all over the three campuses.
Among the institute’s many unmissable and eye-catching monuments are the giant free-standing arcade in the south campus, the colossal octagonal edifice that serves as the central campus main building and the whitish oddly shaped building of Agropole in the northern campus.
photography by: Sekouba04
If you feel saturated from the monstrous monuments of Yamoussoukro, there isn’t a better way to balance it than venturing out into the countryside around.
Ivory coast has 8 national parks in total, one of which, Marahoué National Park is only two-hour drive from the capital, making it a great option for a day trip.
Founded in 1968, Marahoué covers about 1,000 square kilometers of protected area that provides a refuge for a plethora of endemic species like the duiker, African buffalo, western hartebeest, red colobus and dozens of bird species.
Unfortunately, in the past two decades much of the park was damaged as deforestation, poaching and illegal human settlement took a heavy toll on the wildlife, leaving merely few enclaves of gallery forests and savannahs.
Most of Marahoué’s African elephants, the country’s national emblem, were relocated to other reserves to avoid conflicts with farmers who encroached on the premises of the park, whereas chimps were completely eradicated from the area.
It’s true that park is only a shadow of what it used to be, albeit, it’s still a worthy place to visit if you stay in Yamoussoukro, in fact, visiting Marahoué is probably the best way to preserve it since tourism can potentially replace agriculture as the region’s main source of income.
photography by: Zenman