I Still Go To School

on teaching, learning, travelling

The Emperor’s New City

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This weekend I finally had the opportunity to get out of Abidjan and explore Yamoussoukro. Despite Abidjan being the main venue and biggest city of Cote d’Ivoire with a population of almost 5 million, Yamoussoukro with just about 250.000 people is the political capital of the nation. It is located 230km North of Abidjan, and easily reached via a recently completed, modern highway.

The upgraded highway from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro. Official limit 120 km/h, but 190 was also ok hehe

The upgraded highway from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro. Official limit 120 km/h, but 190 was also ok hehe

Beware, there is only one single gas station between the two cities. Concerning food, it’s easier, as the nearby villages are selling their goods like fruit and vegetables and also water and soft drinks right at the curb. We took the car, which is much faster than public transport. The official speed limit is 120km/h, but there are barely any speed controls. 😉

Here we just passed the entrance to Yamoussoukro. Left and right of this majestic street you can see the city.

Welcome to Yamoussoukro

Welcome to Yamoussoukro

After we arrived at our Hotel, “Concorde”, we met with our local friend, Roger, who took me on a tour on his motorbike. We stopped at the side of the road. We were in the city centre. Here we have the town’s hall, the prefecture, and, just around the corner, the engineering universities.

my tourguide explaining the place while we're motor-biking through the empty streets.

my tourguide explaining the place while we’re motor-biking through the empty streets.

I asked him where all the people were… and the cars, and buildings. I felt like the young boy exposing the Emperor’s New Clothes. He responded they were there, everywhere.

Orange is the most powerful and omnipresent company in Cote d'Ivoire

Orange is the most powerful and omnipresent company in Cote d’Ivoire

the city center, with the prefecture on the right. The prefect's hous is right next to it, and the grounds are the same size.

the city center, with the prefecture on the right. The prefect’s hous is right next to it, and the grounds are the same size.

Here we are in front of La Basilique, said to be the largest church building in the world. We got a tour by a friendly guide who kept saying, “Now please excuse me, let’s continue there…” when he was moving on to the next point of information. I don’t know if I can trust the measures he was explaining, for example the cross in the middle of the altar being 2.5 metres when it was clearly shorter than I.

Foreigner students get a special deal of paying quadruple price, yay!

Foreigner students get a special deal of paying quadruple price, yay!

The Basilique. Looks tiny, but it's like an optical illusion because there are no other buildings round

The Basilique. Looks medium sizes, but it’s like an optical illusion because there are no other buildings round

at one of the 12 stained glass windows, which are also the gates into the main dome

at one of the 12 stained glass windows, which are also the gates into the main dome

inside the main dome

inside the main dome

the tour guide insisted on taking a picture like this. so i complied...

the tour guide insisted on taking a picture like this. so i complied…

exterior with gardens designed by some French guy

exterior with gardens designed by some French guy

tour guide pointing at the top of the dome: it's not made from gold, but copper, but it weighs 120 tons and was lifted by hydraulic pumps.

tour guide pointing at the top of the dome (above the roof) : it’s not made from gold, but copper, but it weighs 120 tons and was lifted by hydraulic pumps. The cross’s top is 158m above ground.

30 metres above ground, a view into the dome. 7000 can be seated here, and 11000 additionally standing, so the tour guide said. Inside of each column of the altar there are 40 speakers

30 metres above ground, a view into the dome. 7000 can be seated here, and 11000 additionally standing, so the tour guide said. Inside of each of the four columns of the altar there are 40 speakers

spot the tour guide in white shirt in the back on the left. Gives you an idea about the size of the building

spot the tour guide in white shirt in the back on the left. Gives you an idea about the size of the building

Roger and his bike in front of the main entrance of the Basilique

Roger on his bike in front of the main entrance of the Basilique

We passed the main spots of the city: The Hotel President, Maison Houphouet, the town’s hall, the Peace Foundation, and the prefect’s office. Roger and Mr. Doumbia know the prefect very well, so we visited him at home to present Abraham, the birthday boy.

The artificial lakes in front of Houphouet's house. Spot the crocodile in the center of the picture. There are loads and they have eaten two of their care-takers already... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXNuYyYV_X4

The artificial lakes in front of Houphouet’s house. Spot the crocodile in the center of the picture. There are loads and they have eaten two of their care-takers already…

If you’re up for it, watch the video of the crocodile: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXNuYyYV_X4

Refreshing coconut drink on the way back home.

Refreshing coconut drink on the way back home.

the Peace Foundation building, which is now mainly used for research and conferences.

the Peace Foundation building, which is now mainly used for research and conferences.

some good salad :) i was actually happy about something light to eat, but it was just the first course

some good salad 🙂 i was actually happy about something light to eat, but it was just the first course

Birthday Boy Abraham and I, having some couscous and chicken

Birthday Boy Abraham and I, having some couscous and chicken

When we passed by the Hotel President, we happened to bump into the Minister of Construction (Amon Tanoh) with his police escort. Roger knows him, so we also just shook hands and went our ways.

Hotel President. The top restaurant was supposed to rotate, but due to forseen maintenance problems it wasn't built that way.

Hotel President. The top restaurant was supposed to rotate, but due to forseen maintenance problems it wasn’t built that way.

On top of the Hotel you have a nice view of the whole place.

view from the restaurant at Hotel President

view from the restaurant at Hotel President

In the far back you can see the Hotel Parliamentaire, and new government building, plus a road in the making. It was decided by parliament in 1983 to relocate the entire administration plus embassies and therefore also UN offices to Yamoussoukro. Seems like bit by bit it’s even happening, with 21 years delay…

So… what’s the deal? Why is there this skeleton of a city, with 6 lane streets, a Basilica bigger than Vatican’s St. Peter, and more trees than people? Well, I was told that Yamoussoukro was the home village of the late president Felix Houphouet Boigny. He is affectionately referred to as “Pere de la nation”, the father of the nation. His vision was to create a city in the center of the country. He himself created the design of the street system, with Washington D.C. as a point of orientation. He, being the heir of a family of Kings, also had the Basilica built by 11.000 workers in just three years. When asked about the building expenses, Houphouet responded, “If heaven gives you something, you don’t ask for how much it had cost.” Estimates are around $300 million.

President Boigny had a vision for Cote d’Ivoire. He built three engineering schools and universities in Yamoussoukro to improve the agricultural sector. Yamoussoukro was to become the new center of the country, and attract people from the villages and Abidjan to move there. But that just never happened. While Abidjan and Bouaké are growing and industrializing, Yamoussoukro merely carries a title without much meaning.

Can it be that, despite their love for Boigny, his people could not catch his vision?

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4 thoughts on “The Emperor’s New City

  1. Hm, interessant, dass obwohl so viel investiert wurde, die Stadt praktisch brach liegt. Zuerst dachte ich, es sei vielleicht ein Fehler gewesen, als bei city center praktisch eine Straße und weit und breit nur ein Gebäude steht. Werden die Universitäten denn auch betrieben oder stehen sie leer? Der Dom sieht wirklich beeindruckend aus, aber werden dort tatsächlich Gottesdienste abgehalten? Kann mir nur schwer vorstellen, dass da alles voll sein wird, wenn nur so wenige Menschen in der Stadt leben. Oder irre ich mich da? Ist jedenfalls schön wieder von dir zu lesen 🙂

    • great entry. I think you should try to submit it to some websites like Vice. I’m sure other people would appriciate it!

      • hey tokuwa! thank you! one can actually submit to vice? i love the place, but i havent seen an option anywhere… do you know any other travel blogs that are open so submission?

    • romica! ich war an einem samstag nachmittag dort. wenn du dir bilder vom petersdom am wochenende anschaust, kommst du dir hier vor wie am friedhof. aber hat auch was gutes, keine warteschlangen oder staus 😉
      ja, die unis sind auch unterbevölkert, aber 5000 studenten sind schon dort, wobei die meisten aus abidjan kommen, weil die uni einen sehr guten ruf hat. ich hab leider nicht die möglichkeit gehabt bei der messe dabei zu sein, aber ich bin mir sicher es ist eindrucksvoll.

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