It is well know that Benin is a land full of traditional, cultural and historical heritage. However, if you have the opportunity of visiting the city these sites will help you to get a better understanding of the people, their culture, history, innovation and industry. Here are the notable tourist attractions in Benin.
The Ogiamien HouseThe Ogiamien Palace
The Ogiamien house or Ogiamien Palace is a mud building located at No. 97 Sakponba road, Benin City. It is believed to have been built at around 1130 AD. The Palace is a national monument which existed before the Oba dynasty and also survived the British invasion of 1897.
The building has a characteristic rectangular shaped design depicting the Benin architecture of that period, with fluted terracotta walls and corrugated iron roof. The front wall of the building has two doors of which only one of them is opened to the public.
The palace has a total of about twenty rooms located in eight different courtyards. It is roofed such that the courtyard is open to the sky for ventilation, to receive sun, moonlight and rain. The building contains various personal, family and communal shrines and altars, a large kitchen where the Ogiamien’s food is prepared and also a graveyard where all Ogiamiens are buried except the first Ogiamien who was buried in his bedroom.
The Ogiamien palace plays several important roles in the Benin traditional institution as well as in the proper discharge of his administrative, cultural and spiritual duties.
The palace served as an administrative centre for the Ogiamien, and sometimes a holding place for slaves and prisoners of war. The Ogiamien also has his Igue celebration a day before the general celebration at his palace.
There are some traditional etiquette that must be observed when visiting the palace
- The Urho Erinmwin door is only used by the Oba when he visits during his coronation. It is a taboo for anyone to go in or exit through that door.
- No one is allowed to enter the personal temple of the Ogiamien because it is used by him as a place of isolation.
The Oba Palace
The Oba’s palace is located at Kings Square in the centre of Benin City. It is regarded as a national monument, UNESCO world heritage site and also a museum of some sort because of the huge number of ivory, bronze and wood artworks held within its walls.Main Gate to Oba Palace
The palace which has served as a home for a succession of numerous Obas was first built around 1255 AD by Oba Ewedo. He made this move to build a palace in order to break free from the Edionisen and suppress the Uzamas by moving the seat of power from Usama to Benin. This move was opposed by the Ogiamien who practically had control of Benin City but he was defeated by the Oba in the battle of Ekiokpagha.
The British invasion of 1897 left the palace in ruins. It was only when Oba Eweka II ascended the throne in 1914 that the palace was rebuilt.
The palace serves as a residential, spiritual and communal home. The palace complex houses the Oba, his wives, children, palace workers and other aides, various temples and shrines dedicated to all the past Obas, reception halls for receiving visitors, exotic animals like ostrich, a football pitch and massive grounds for the hosting of various festivals such as the world famous Igue festival.
Paying a visit to the palace of the Oba can be a very interesting experience for a tourist. It is however advised to observe the following dos and don’ts.
- Whistling is not allowed within the palace because it is seen as a medium of calling out to spirits of the dead
- Pointing at the Oba or his chiefs is strictly prohibited
- Use of umbrellas is not allowed. Only the Oba is allowed to cover with an umbrella in the palace
- Females are prohibited from going to the Alaka shrine area because it is believed to contain a spirit that causes barrenness
- Only males with royal blood are allowed to approach the royal harem
- Palm fruits are not allowed to be carried on the head because they represent blood and can attract disaster
- Black clothes are not allowed to be worn in the palace because they represent mourning.
The Benin Moat
The Benin moat or Iya as it is called in Edo language is the largest man made earthworks in the world and second largest man made structure in the world after the great wall of China (according to the Guinness Book of World Records).
The moat complex was built mainly as a defensive wall to protect the city from enemy attacks and to give control over the access to the city which had nine gates that were shut at night.
The moat encompassed 4000 square kilometres of land stretching across 10, 000 kilometres of land boundary. It is important to note that this massive structure was built without the use of any earth moving equipment. All the work involved in the building was done by hand.
Historical records shows that the first and second moats were dug by Oba Oguola between 1280 and 1295. He dug the moat mainly to protect the city from invaders and European imperialists who were on the hunt for slaves. The success of these moats motivated him to give orders that all the villages and smaller communities within the empire dug their own protective moats. This raised the number of moats dug to 20.
Between 1440 and 1473, Oba Ewuare the Great embarked on an ambitious extension of the existing moats to become the massive structure they are today.
Although the moats have been encroached on by people, disused and converted into dumps, and are now overgrown with weeds, the relics of these ancient wonder is still very visible in Benin today.
Igun StreetEntrance to Igun Street
Igun street is the traditional home of the famous Benin Bronze Casters. The members of the bronze casters guild are the only ones permitted by the Oba to engage in this art. Igun street is today listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
In ancient times, the Oba had very strict control over the art of bronze casting and its products. It was only the Oba and those permitted by him that were allowed to own bronze works.
In recent times, the ownership of bronze works have become liberal with the casters allowed to sell to whoever they want although membership of the casters guild is strictly limited to the descendants of a particular ancestral lineage known as the Ine Nigun.
If opportune to visit Benin, do not fail to get to Igun street to purchase at least a piece of the beautiful and unique bronzes on display in the numerous galleries.
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