The Best Things to Do in Benin City, Nigeria
Female Benin palace dancers | © Gogeafrica / WikiCommons
Benin City is the capital of Edo State in southern Nigeria. It is approximately 40 km (25 miles) north of the Benin River. Formerly known as Benin Kingdom, the city is one of the most ancient in the whole of Africa, standing partly as the remains of what was once a powerful and famous African Empire during the 15th and 16th centuries. From its rich cultural attractions and traditions to its colorful festivals and world-renowned art, here are the best things to see and do when in town.
The Royal Palace of the Oba of Benin
The palace, which was declared one of Nigeria‘s UNESCO Listed Heritage sites in 1999, is an architectural wonder. The Oba of Benin is the traditional ruler of the Edo people, and his palace has sacred cultural significance. The palace, which is centrally situated at the heart of the city, was erected by Oba Ewedo (1255 – 1280). It was later rebuilt by Oba Eweka II (1914 – 1932) after the 1897 war. A palace visit comes with dos and don’ts as regards traditions – one of the restrictions includes no wearing of black clothing, as black represents mourning and the Oba is seen as a deity who has no reason to mourn. Others include whistling (which is seen as summoning evil spirits) or pointing at the Oba or his chiefs, while dogs are not allowed due to sacrificial reasons. A tour guide will come in very handy to fully enjoy the experience.
Benin City National Museum
Benin City National Museum is home to a large number of Nigeria’s terracotta, bronze, and cast iron artefacts. In the 1940s, what was then the museum was privately located in the Oba’s Palace. It was relocated in the 1970s and became a public center. The museum holds three galleries and is one of the largest museums
in terms of indigenous artefacts in Nigeria, making it a must-visit for history and cultural lovers.
Okomu National Park
Okomu National Park is the smallest of the forest reserves in Nigeria, and is a forest block that covers 1,082 sq km (418 sq miles). The park holds a remnant of the Nigerian lowland forests that once formed a continuous 50-100 km (31-62 mile)-wide belt from the Niger River west to the Dahomey Gap in Benin. Home to buffaloes, red river hogs, chimpanzees, leopards, bush baby, putty nosed guenon, porcupine, pangolins, duikers, and antelopes, it is also a sanctuary for the white-throated monkey, one of the rarest in the world. Bird watchers and butterfly lovers will find this a magical place.
Igun-Eronmwon quarters, also known as Igun Street Benin City, is listed as a Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, and is one of Benin City’s most visited tourist attractions as the home of the brass/bronze casting industries in Benin. It displays one of the 31 guilds of the Oba of Benin of the ancient and magnificent Benin kingdom. There are local traders who sell souvenirs and trinkets of rich cultural significance, so make sure to get one before you leave!
Hiking Trail, Shrine
Somorika is a town in Akoko, Edo located about 5 km (3.1 miles) northeast of Igarra. The natural rocky ascents here go as high as 1,700 feet (518 meters), interspersed at unequal heights filling the borders of the town. Somorika boasts seven hills, each with its own unique features and names. Ogundugundu is the highest and longest of them all, while one of the geographical wonders is the Oriakpe Hill, where the rock wears a little cap shaped like a fingernail. Somarika is known across Nigeria and beyond for its spiritual and physical healing powers, and people come from all over the world to be healed here.
Cinema, Shopping Mall
In spot as ancient as Benin City, the Kada Plaza offers a different modern counterpoint to the cultural sights and sounds that normally accompany a historic city. Kada Plaza is one of the best places to hang out with friends and family for a good night out. It offers a cinema, an arcade, a Chinese restaurant, a shopping complex and a go-kart racing arena.
The Benin Moat
Construction of the Benin Moat, also known as ‘Iya’, is estimated to have started as early as 800AD, and was finally completed around 1460. The moat dug by the Edo people was constructed as a defensive barrier against external forces during the times of war, took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct – it encircles the city covering 6,500 sq km (2,510 sq miles). The moat is four times longer than the Great Wall of China and is said to be the largest single archaeological phenomenon in the world.