Country Facts: Official name – The Republic of Benin

Benin, a narrow, north-south strip of land in West Africa, lies between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer. Colonized by the French from 1872 until the 1st of August 1960 when the country achieved independence, Republic of Benin lies between latitudes  and 13°N, and longitudes  and 4°E. It is bounded by Togo to the West, Burkina Faso and Niger to the North, Nigeria to the East, and the Bight of Benin to the South. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo, but the seat of government is in Cotonou, the country's largest city. French is the official language spoken in the former colony and the official currency used is the CFA franc.

Country Facts:

Majority of Benin's population lives in the south. About 42 African ethnic groups live in this country. Ethnic groups include the Yoruba in the southeast (migrated from Nigeria in the 12th century); the Dendi in the north-central area (they came from Mali in the 16th century); the Bariba and the Fula in the northeast; the Batammaribe and the Somba in the Atacora Range; the Fon in the area around Abomey in the south-central and the MinaXueda, and Aja (who came from Togo) on the coast.

Notable Places to Visit

Ruins of Dahomey Kingdom

Ghezo’s Throne is one of the fearsome Dahomey kingdom relics which is part of a group of earthen structures referred to as the Royal Palaces of Dahomey Kingdom built by the Fon people in Abomey. The throne which is mounted on human skulls is what is left of palaces and temples in a kingdom that thrived between the mid 17th and late 19th centuries. The palaces form one of the UNESCO heritage sites. The Historical Museum created by the French colonial administration in 1943 also forms part of this site.

Route D’Esclaves

Slaves bound for Brazil and the Caribbean took their last walk on African soil on this route that leads to Benin’s point of no return in Ouidah.  The 2. 5mile (4km) stretch of heritage road holds several landmarks which tell the slave trade story. The Slave Auction where owners bargained for help, the Tree of Forgetting where slaves were forced to perform a ritual which allegedly made them forget their homeland, and the Zomai Cabin, a tiny dark enclosure which was thought to prepare the slaves for the torrid conditions aboard the ships. 

The Grand Marche du Dantokpa

Described by some as a staple of the city of Cotonou, this market is known to have anything under the Sun. Bordered by the lagoon and boulevard Saint Michel, things to buy at stalls and shops along its labyrinthine lanes and sub-markets range from a pair of plastic sandals to more traditional wares like batiks and Fon Jewelry. A fetish market lies near the pirogues arriving from the lagoon.

The Lagoon Community of Ganvie

This fishing community in Cotonou is like a West African version of Venice. A tourist can spend the day wandering around in a pirogue (a boat), enjoying the sites of the locals fishing, visit a restaurant and take in views of different buildings on stilts all on Lake Nokoue which hosts the lagoon community of Ganvie.

The Pendjari National Park

Named for the Pendjari River, the national park is known for its wildlife and is home to some of the last populations of big game like elephants, West African lions, hippopotamuses, buffalo and various antelopes in West Africa. The hills and cliffs of the Atakora range make the north-west part the most scenic areas of Benin. They provide a wonderful backdrop to the Pendjari National Park, which, in its isolation, remains one of the most interesting in West Africa.

W National Park

This is a major national park in West Africa around a meander in the River Niger shaped like a “W”. The park includes areas of three countries Niger, Benin and Burkina Faso and is governed by the three countries. Formed by the delta of the Mekrou River and the Niger, and broken by rocky hills, the regional park covers some 10, 000 km2. The park is known for its large mammals, including aardvark, baboons, buffalocaracalcheetahselephantshippopotamusesleopardslions, serval and warthogs. The park provides a home for some of West Africa's last wild African Elephants. The National Park is one of the last strongholds for the Northwest African cheetah. There is a small but apparently increasing population of at least 15-25 animals of this rare cats in the park. The W area is also known for its bird populations, especially transitory migrating species, with over 350 species identified in the park.

Temple of the Sacred Python

Open to visitors daily, the Temple of the Sacred Python is one of the most interesting temples in Ouidah. The serpent deity Dangbe is revered in many cultures in Benin and thus the serpent is believed to be sacred and in need of reverence and protection. The priests of Dangbe manage and maintain the temple, charging a small fee for visitors interested in seeing the dozens of pythons housed inside. For another fee, visitors can have their picture taken with a serpent draped around their neck.

Notable Events

  • The Bienniale “Regard Benin.”
  • Quintessence Film Festival, Ouidah
  • Gelede Festival (akin to Mother’s Day)
  • Waba Festival (Art Exhibition)
  • International Festival of the Dahomean Cultures
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