Is this Rome? Vatican City? These were the first question that came to my mind when I saw a picture of Yamoussoukro Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. I packed my bag and was ready for a thrilling trip.
“Yakro”, for short, Ivory Coast’s administrative and political capital, Yamoussoukro, pronounced “Yam-So-Kro” by Ivorians is one of the most interesting capitals I’ve ever visited. The fact is this “Yam” is so cool.
Three hours drive from Abidjan, the country’s de facto nerve centre, Yakro is calm, wide with evenly spaced boulevards, a surrounding lake, peaceful ponds and tree-lined residential districts given the place a sort of beautiful rural feel you hardly find in the capital of any city.
In Yamoussoukro is a church built by the then president – Félix Houphouët-Boigny. Yamoussoukro Basilica of Our Lady of Peace modelled after Peter’s basilica in the Vatican is the only basilica in Africa and the largest church building in the world.
The Lebanese-Ivorian architect Pierre Fakhoury slightly lowered the size so as not to surpass the papal one (a request by Pope John Paul II), but the architect played a clever trick and instead topped it with a giant golden cross, making this the world’s tallest church. After building it, he gave it as a gift to Pope John Paul who rejected it.
Although the building can comfortably accommodate 18,000 worshippers, an average Sunday worship has about 300-400 worshippers. There is a full service during the Christmas of each year, where the church gets to its full capacity with worshippers travelling down from various cities.
In 1983, the President moved the Ivorian capital to his village and city of birthplace-Yamoussoukro and built a presidential villa surrounded by an artificial lake that harbours numerous crocodiles. Yamoussoukro soon became a fast developing small city, with government ministries transferred from chaotic urban Abidjan.
The Basilica stands out tall in the middle of nowhere in this small city. The political capital was returned to Abidjan after the president’s 33 years in power, but the buildings are still there and now are a wide tourist attraction. A 3-hour drive from Ivorian Capital Abidjan will get you to Yamoussoukro.
The Basilica is built to accommodate about 18 thousand people, its cost was 200 – 300 million USD. The building occupies a total area of about 30,000 m³.
In the construction, marbles from Italy and 7,000 m² of stained glass from France were imported. The seats were built from quality locally treated wood and designed with personal air-conditioning for every seat.
The pulpit is designed such that you don’t need a microphone; the sound is evenly spread across every corner of the church auditorium. The organ is one of the most expensive organs in Africa costing about. The church podiums are with a lift system that carries one to the topmost part of the church building.
The basilica contains 24 massive stained-glass windows, each featuring a biblical scene. Some critics believed that the building is less a glorification of God and more a vanity project from the president, which some regarded as a dictator. Nevertheless, the architecture is one of a kind, a very stunning place, and undoubtedly less explored by tourists.
Whether it’s ethical or not spending so much money on religious places especially in undeveloped or developing countries where people need such money to improve their lives is still something to ponder about. But most people who lived in Yamoussoukro feel proud and happy for having this beautiful and magnificent place worship in their city despite their arduous lives.
Why you should visit:
- In terms of height, it is the tallest church in the world
- In terms of size, it is the largest church in the world.
- Every piece in the church; the seats, the stained glasses, the pulpit and also the podium are well designed to suit a particular purpose.
- It took 3 years to construct this marvellous edifice.
- It takes about 1.3M $ for annual maintenance.
- The entrance is 2000 XOF per person. In Naira-N1250