Visit Benin (formerly an African kingdom called Dahome) in Africa as part of a study trip! Behind the lagoons of the coast, the land rises to a fertile, intensively agriculturally used plain, to which – as a continuation of the Togo Mountains – the Atakora Mountains connect. The northeastern plain descends to the valley of the Niger River. The main cities of Benin are the capital Porto Novo with the Institut Ecole du Patrimoine Africain; Cotonou, a central transport hub in the country, with Cotonous Airport; Parakou with the city’s landmark the Cathedrale Saints Perre et Paul and the city of Natitingou with the residential castles Tata-Somba, the Kota waterfalls and the botanical garden of Papatia. A tour of Benin will definitely be worth it!
The city of Ouidah has about 80,000 inhabitants and is located on the north bank of a lagoon in the West African Republic of Benin. As the only port city in the Republic of Benin, Ouidah was an active trading city and the center of the slave trade in the region. During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, nearly 1,000,000 people were transported across the Atlantic on ships from the beach in Ouidah. When European governments began to condemn the slave trade as brutal and unjustified, the trade in slaves across the Atlantic ended. Later, many of the descendants of the slaves who had been exported to the New World began to be repatriated to Ouidah in Benin. Most of them were the third generation of enslaved people who now lived in Brazil. When they returned to Benin and especially to Ouidah, they brought many of their customs and traditions with them. Many examples of Afro-Brazilian architecture in Ouidah from this period can be seen to this day.
The city offers visitors many interesting places and sights, especially in terms of cultural history. The most important attractions include the so-called slave route, which leads from the then slave market to the beach to the Gate of No Return, the Python Temple and the historical museum. There are numerous statues and memorials on the slave trade on the slave route. These memorials and the Gate of No Return were restored in 1992 with financial support from UNESCO.
Every year on January 10th, a large voodoo festival takes place on the beach of Ouidah, during which the Voodoo King performs several ceremonies. In the meantime, this day has also been declared a national holiday.
Center of the slave trade: The Palace of Abomey
Anyone who expects glitz, glamor and the baroque flourishes of the Potsdam Sanssouci or even the Parisian Versailles from the Abomey Royal Palace will probably be disappointed in Benin, which was to be found on the maps as Dahomey until 1975. And yet this place in the south of the West African country, in the Zou department, has a very special flair. For this was a place of power between 1645 and 1889, a sacred area where the spirit of the king ruled everything. Today, two of Abomey’s original fourteen palace huts are still quite well preserved.
A center of the slave trade
The royal palace of Abomey was something of the West African center of the slave trade. These unfortunate people, who were sold on the market as cheap labor, came almost without exception from neighboring peoples. The ruler of Dahomey considered them prisoners of war after raids and made them slaves. This was the basis of the prosperity of a controversial kingdom. The slave ships from America anchored off the coast of Dahomeys at regular intervals.
Armories and temples
The kings of Abomey built their residence with the proceeds of the slave trade. With almost four hundred thousand square meters, it had enormous dimensions with chambers for the ruler’s up to forty wives, with extensive armories and temples. The rituals in the royal palace were not for the faint-hearted, because the death of a regent also meant the death of his companions. They were buried alive with the king.
The “Gate of No Return”
Today’s UNESCO World Heritage Site is surrounded by a six-meter-high wall. Some reliefs have survived the centuries on the simple walls of the huts. You can see symbols with birds, fish and drums. Others document the first contacts between the African royal family and European slave traders. There are a total of seven royal seats in the so-called throne house. One of them rests on skulls. The “Gate of No Return” in the port city of Quidah still bears witness to the trade with the slaves.
Pendjari National Park
The Pendjari National Park is located in the northwest of the African state of Benin and received its status as a protected area in 1954. It covers more than 2,750 square kilometers – an area larger than the Saarland – and is at the same time part of a biosphere reserve three times the size.
Location & geography
The national park is located on the border with Burkina Faso, on whose territory it merges into the Arly National Park. To the east is the even larger National Park W, which includes areas in three countries. Trips can be planned so that both destinations can be visited.
In the extensive area there are very different vegetation areas, which include the foothills of the Atakora mountain range.
Plants & wildlife
Pendjari impresses with a variety of animal species that are rarely found in the rest of West Africa and that find a retreat here. They include various antelope species such as hartebeest, monkeys such as the green baboon and the hussar monkey, but also buffalo, warthogs, hippos and elephants. In small numbers there are even the rare West African lions and some cheetahs in the area. The African civet, leopards, jackals and spotted hyenas can also be observed.
In addition to the different mammal species, the park is also home to a large number of different fish species and some reptiles, including crocodiles, monitor lizards, snake species such as pythons and the aquatic softshell turtles.
The flora of Pendjari National Park depends on the altitude. In addition to the flat, swampy areas, the river banks and sometimes temporary lakes, there are also savannas and dense deciduous forests. The climate is characterized by the dry period between December and May and the subsequent rainy season with up to 1000mm of precipitation.
Due to the diversity of the landscapes and the otherwise rare mammal species in West Africa, the national park is a popular destination for photo safaris and study trips. There is also the possibility of hunting tourism in the adjacent areas. Those who do not have their own off-road vehicle have the option of renting a suitable vehicle including a driver on site. There are several accommodations within the park’s boundaries, and camping is permitted in some locations.