The Roads to Yamoussoukro

The thought of going to Yamoussoukro had been on my mind for the past few years. I had learned about the Basilica in Yamoussoukro: The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Basilique Notre Dame de la Paix). Yamoussoukro is in Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), West Africa and NOT in Japan as one of my friends suggested when I mentioned it to him. It is actually the capital of Ivory Coast, a French speaking West African country.

This Basilica is said to be the largest church in the world! It was built by Felix Houphouet Boigny, the first president of Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) and consecrated on 10 September 1990 by Pope John Paul II. It was supposedly controversial and perhaps unusual considering its cost, the motivation for building it and its location! I really wanted to see it.

It has variously been compared to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. I had spent a few days some years back exploring St. Peter’s. You can read about my experience of St. Peter’s at (https://www.octavephotographers.com/blog/2017/3/11/looking-up-at-the-vatican-mesmerized)

There were several reasons why I had failed to make the trip in the past. These included the ongoing political instability in the country and the fact that I did not and still don’t speak French. There was no airport in Yamoussoukro. You had to travel by road from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro; a distance of about 240 km.

When I finally made up my mind to do the trip this time, those fears were still there. The urge however was such that I could not resist! I had to go. LESSON 1, whatever you want to do, do it in your own good time as long as it is not a matter of life and death. As the saying goes ‘whenever you wake up is your own good morning!’

I wanted to be there during one of the Catholic festivals so as to have some spiritual feel to the visit. Easter was the choice! I started by making a hotel reservation on-line at the President Hotel in Yamoussoukro. Then I made a flight reservation into Abidjan. There were several airlines flying to Abidjan. I planned to arrange local transportation when I got there.

Abidjan airport was small but very efficient and clean. I was impressed with the Immigration and Custom services. They were orderly, polite and professional. The information kiosk at the airport was very helpful with local hotel and transportation arrangement. I was really grateful to the information kiosk staff for their help.

I made transportation arrangement at the hotel for my trip to Yamoussoukro for the following morning. The taxi driver (who spoke English) was a no-show in the morning but had arranged for a French speaking driver to take his place! One big mistake I made was not to confirm the taxi fare with the new driver before we left Abidjan. That was a really big mistake which I paid dearly for once we got to Yamoussoukro. LESSON 2, always confirm prior arrangement with new drivers!

Bus transportation was suggested but would not give me the flexibility to do photography of the country side. The trip took over 3 hours on a fantastic smooth dual carriage way.  I was impressed by the agriculturally scenic road; huge farms mainly rubber plantations, plantain/banana plantations, Gmelina tree plantations etc.

I arrived the President Hotel in Yamoussoukro thinking I had a reservation. I intended to stay 4 days for the Easter weekend. It was a shock that the online reservation was not valid. The hotel had no access to the online reservation! The hotel could provide accommodation for the first two days. It was a holiday weekend, the hotel was fully booked. I tried a few other hotels in town with the same result. Virtually all the good hotels in town were solidly booked. LESSON 3, always confirm your hotel reservations directly with the hotel!

I was not disappointed when I finally saw the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace! The environment was serene, really peaceful! The reception staff was very friendly. I paid the usual entrance fee and an additional fees for permission to take commercial photos.

My guide (Philip) was knowledgeable and helpful. He helped carry my tripod throughout his assignment. I realized that this was not part of his job; perhaps, that innate African culture of a younger person respecting and helping an older folk! I was grateful for his help!

I wrote a blog about my experience at the basilica which could be read at https://www.octavephotographers.com/blog/2018/5/2/the-basilica-of-our-lady-of-peace-basilique-notre-dame-de-la-paix-yamoussoukro

Yamoussoukro was well laid out. It seemed there was the new and the old parts of town. The roads were wide but unfortunately full of pot holes at the time of my visit. There were several lakes which I understand were man-made. The people were very hospitable. They smiled readily and were eager to help except for one taxi driver who took advantage of me! It was easy to get permission to take photographs of people and places.

There were other major attractions such as the palace of President Felix Houphouet Boigny, the coconut farm (I had my first natural coconut water drink there), the Crocodile Lake, the local cathedral and mosque, the Foundation for peace research and academic institutions.

The country was peaceful at the time of my visit. Actually, my inability to speak French did not significantly impact my overall enjoyment of the trip. Fortunately, a lot of Ivoirians spoke English and were eager to help. I met a lot of interesting people.  LESSON 4, our fears are just that, fears. If we rise above them and plan appropriately we will just be fine!

It was a worthwhile trip. I hope to be back at the Basilica sometime in the future. I feel I had not fully enriched myself of the spiritual aspect of the visit.

Enjoy some of my photos from Cote d’Ivoire.

Further information could be obtained here (I do not necessarily agree with some of the statements in these writings. I did my own fact findings during my visit);

1.      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Our_Lady_of_Peace

2.      https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/yamoussoukro

4.       N’Guessan KA et al in Procedia Environmental Sciences 2011; 9:140-147

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Basilique Notre Dame de la Paix) Yamoussoukro

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), is a Catholic minor Basilica noted to be the largest church in the world. This magnificent edifice was built by the first president of Ivory Coast, Felix Houphouet-Boigny. The Basilica is situated on a piece of land which used to be part of Felix Houphouet-Boigny’s coconut farm in his home town of Yamoussoukro. The remnant of the coconut farm remains visible around the Basilica. Construction was started in 1985 and was completed in 1989. It was consecrated in 1990.

The approach to the Basilica is about 1 kilometer long. It is paved with marble centrally with asphalted driveway on either side circling the Basilica. There is a massive garden on either side of the driveway supposedly patterned on the gardens of the palace of Versailles in France.

The design of the Basilica is that of a Christian Cross. The Basilica is made of marble. There are two semicircular colonnades, patterned on the Doric colonnades of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, in front of the Basilica. The two colonnades encircle a large dove image imprinted on the floor of the massive forecourt, perhaps signifying peace which is the central theme of the Basilica. The two colonnades lead to a large rectangular porch or façade which forms the lower portion of the cross. Columns are plentiful and are of non-uniform design. There is a terrace on top of the porch supported by huge columns; a favorite spot for visitors.

The nave of the Basilica is round and can seat 7000 worshipers. There is also room for additional 11000 standing worshipers resulting in a total capacity of 18,000. The nave is free standing under the dome. The dome is supported on columns. The stained glass atop the dome has a dove inscribed centrally.

There are several unique features of the Basilica among which are the curvilinear wooden pews made of hard African Iroko wood, individual air-condition vent in the pews, the African design incorporated into the canopy over the altar, extensive amount of stained glass windows and doors, unique stained glass images and or names of those involved in the concept, design and building of the Basilica, a wooden sculpture of the ‘Notre Dame De Tout le Monde’ and the tallest dome in the world if you consider the huge ornamental cross on top of the dome.

My guide told me an inspirational story about the ‘Notre Dame de Tout Le Monde’. This wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary was conceived by an incarcerated Muslim criminal in Yamoussoukro prison. Apparently, this individual had a dream in which he had a conversation with the Virgin Mary. He reasoned that if the Virgin Mary could appear to him, a Muslim, She obviously belonged to the whole world and not to Christians alone. He decided to erect a sculpture to the Virgin Mary; Our Lady of the Whole World.

There are two identical large mansions on the back end of the Basilica; one serves as the residence for the Pope and the other serves as the rectory for the rector and administrators of the facility. A 250 bed children’s hospital is located on the east side of the facility.

I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to photograph this unique Basilica which I believe is a unique gift to Christendom and the African continent. I am also grateful for the opportunity to meet with the rector Rev. Fr. Frank, his assistant Irene and the seminarian, Peter. Attending the Good Friday Passion of Christ and service at the Basilica is the highpoint of my Christian life.

 My hope is that this Basilica will become a rallying point for Catholics on the African continent and a place of pilgrimage for many more people from around the world.

More information could be found at;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Our_Lady_of_Peace

www.cotedivoiretourisme.ci/.../612-la-basilique-notre-dame-de-la-paix