Monday, 9 December 2019

Visiting Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

I visited the biggest Basilica in the world! Basilica of our Lady of Peace (Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix), Yamoussoukro. It is modelled based on the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican but is the tallest and biggest in surface area in the world.
It took three years to build, between 1986 and 1989 and was consecrated by Pope John Paul II.
36 companies were involved in building it, while the architecture and design was done by a Lebanese architect called Pierre Fakhoury.


The structure might not look so impressive from outside...



We did a guided tour of the Basilica and the guide named different countries involved in the construction, like France, Portugal, Italy, the US...for instance, the benches in the church were made from local wood. However, the wood was sent to Italy to be treated then sent back for use. The stained glasses were from France etc...

There are 22 doors and the glasses in the church are stained with murals of stories from the bible. Almost everything in the church represents something. There are 4 pillars on the altar representing the 4 saints. Each pillar has 14 in built speakers that magnifies whatever is said on the altar to everyone's hearing.
At some other part of the building, there were 12 pillars, representing the 12 disciples. There were different statues made from marble, that weighed a lot by the way.

The Vatican is still involved in the maintenance of the Basilica.

The doors are always open to worshippers and masses are held each day. Anyone visiting to worship does so for free but for tourists, there is a fee to be paid:
Foreigners = 2,000 CFA
Locals = 1,000 CFA
Parking = 500 CFA ....if you go with a car
Camera = 500 CFA......if you use a camera. But with phones, you do not pay.

Fees to visit the Basilica


The Basilica compound with the plantation to the right

The first president/founding father of Côte d'Ivoire, Félix Houphouet- Boigny, paid for the church (I won't go into this as there are mixed feelings) which was built in the city where he was born, on what was his plantation of 130 - 150 hectares. There is still some part of the plantation left as a reserve for any further building pictured above.

We climbed 196 steps to get to this point, where we could get a view of the rest of the plantation and the garden. This climb by the way is only a third of the entire height. No one is allowed to go further up.  The idea of the garden was from the Château de Versailles in France.
Inside, there is a viewing gallery.
The garden 


Tourists are only allowed to take photos in the church from the upper gallery.

Stained glass with paintings

The sitting area
This is what inside looks like from above. It has a sitting capacity is 18,000 worshippers.

Below, photos are only allowed at the entrance but not beyond this point


Taking it all in




As I had heard about Yamoussoukro and was keen to visit, I mentioned this to a friend who lives in Abidjan. I told him my plans and he helped to organize a driver for my day trip. 

Yamoussoukro is 209km from Abidjan from the outskirts of town. It took 2.5 hours to get there. The road is good, so the journey was smooth. It cost me 40,000 FCFA for the driver, 30,000 FCFA for fuel and we split the toll gate fees which was 5000 FCFA, 2,500FCFA each.
When the driver found out that it was my first time visiting the country, as we drove through Abidjan, he pointed out a few things to me and told me what some areas were called. He also knew Yamoussoukro so when we arrived, he pointed out some things that would be worth doing. For me, the one thing I was most interested in; was to see the Basilica.


Welcome to Yamoussoukro
We left Abidjan at 8:20am, by 11am, we were at the gate of the Basilica. There was a service going on so we were told to return at 12:30pm when guided tours would commence.


The streets of Yamoussoukro


I was slightly disappointed by the state of some parts of the road and how Yamoussoukro was lagging behind in development compared to Abidjan, there was little happening.
Each person I asked said it was 'just the political capital'. Even as the political capital, it was clear that politics were not run from there. Everything happened in Abidjan. I have chosen not to put up some of the photos of bad roads.


Yamoussoukro


I was at the driver’s disposal who knew the town. He suggested that we start by visiting the Lac des crocodiles (crocodile lake) which was right by Felix Houghuet Boigny’s former residence. That was something different to see…

Lac des crocodiles






Have a look at the video below

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The lake overlooking HFB's former residence
After seeing crocodiles, we went to see if we could have a look at the residence. We were told that normally, there’s a document we were supposed to get from one of the government offices which would grant us access. As it was Sunday and we could not get the document, they wanted us to pay our way in but I was not having it. Seeing the residence was not top on my list so I thanked them for their time and we left.

We stopped by the FHB foundation for research on peace. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and is an impressive building with an archive in photos of FHB's journey to and through his time as President.

All past and the current president have worked in the Presidential office at La Fondation. The building is now 46 years old, has 4 buildings that serve different purposes and took a total of 10 years to build. 
Putting my hands in the hands of those who have walked ahead of me.






The garden...



Photo archive of HFBs life

I was pressured into taking this photo :)

And finally I visited La grande mosquée de Yamoussoukro. The white structure called me to it and the driver obliged when I asked to stop by. 
La grande mosquée de Yamoussoukro
At the entrance, we met a Fulani woman who we asked to lend me a scarf. She was so pleased to have me visit, seemed to me like tourists hardly stop by.


The intricate details of the mosque
Inside the mosque, the female section was far behind where I am standing, while men were free to be every where else. I was slightly uncomfortable when we walked in as men were sleeping in different parts of the mosque. A few stared at me and I'm sure they quickly deduced that I was a tourist. 


I had been looking forward to visiting Yamoussoukro for a while and I am pleased I went. If you have a day to spare while visiting Côte d'Ivoire, I highly recommend that you visit.

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