Abomey’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Royal Palaces
Amidst the palms, red-dirt roads and cob-walls of Abomey stands one of Benin’s essential and historical sights: the palaces of the Dahomey kingdom. Originally founded in the early 17th century, the 12 kings of the Dahomey Empire each built a palace in Abomey, in total covering an astonishing 44 hectares. Many were lost in battles with the French, but what remains are a fascinating record of the empire and an excellent museum. Visiting is like walking through an exotic storybook – the artefacts and records that illuminate the kings and their court read more like fantastic tales than historical document. Enter the harem, for example, and learn how when a king died, hundreds of women volunteered to be buried (alive) with him, of whom a lucky 41 were chosen.Then have a look at the thrones of those kings, keeping an eye out for the one which features the skulls of King Gezo’s enemies. After that, read the history of the kingdom on the walls of the palace – the unique, sometimes almost cartoon-like bas-reliefs are a beautiful record of beliefs and battles, gods and kings, while the hanging tapestries depict the kingdom’s triumphs and its people’s bravery in graphic detail. And by the way, those walls are rumoured to be made, in part, of human blood. Extravagant, bloodthirsty and feared throughout Africa, Benin’s ancient kingdoms are a must.