Ivory Coast Tours
As Seen in…
Places to visit in Ivory Coast and on our African tours
Why visit Ivory Coast?
In this broadly rural setting, the themes of transience and displacement seem to have figured since time immemorial: the settlers before the Berber traders arrived in the 1st century B.C. were largely eradicated by subsequent populations so that, until the 11th century rise of the Sudanic Empires there is little evidence of human activity.
The arrival of Islam here marked a decisive cultural shift and villages’ sacred sites are more evident from then on. The round, thatched huts of the Yocouba or Dan people, still in use today, clustered together on the baked earth of the hot north, may have changed very little since first coming under the vassalage of the 11th century Mali Empire. This subsistence village culture made for little resistance to invaders and so the beautiful bas-relief houses and delicate clay granaries of the modern Senoufo settlements were probably displaced by the rising tide of the Kong Kingdom. The significance of the extraordinary mud mosque of the Baoulé ethnic group conveys the wealth of Islamic trade and the size of this pinnacle, baked-earth building threaded together with sinewy timbers suggests power and influence. Indeed the subsequent Baoulé kingdom with its centralised administration was a real powerhouse of resistance to the French even into the 20th century.
Whilst this lattice of changing kingdoms characterised much of the second millennium A.D., the Portuguese arrival on the coast had limited impact. The jagged coastline and lack of harbourage meant that slaving here was far less prolific than in neighbouring areas and equally was frowned upon by the occupants of the tiny French mission that was set up at Assinie in 1637, bringing Christianity to the coastal people. The big move to colonialization came with the French’s first of many adept treaties with the coastal kings of Assinie and Grand Bassin. The latter’s colonial architecture – in particular the grandiose post office – speak of its former role as capital of the overseas territory they were working at expanding inland. Substantial numbers of settlers arrived, but it was not until 1915 that the interior was subjugated fully.
Their planting of coffee, cocoa and palm oil still accounts for the 10% of landmass devoted to arable farming and modern Ivory Coast – or ‘Côte D’Ivoire’ as the government now requests – exports more cocoa abroad than any other nation in the world. The country paid a heavy price in both world wars, supporting the motherland’s cause: in World War I alone 150,000 men died and resistance to German invasion in the 1940s led to the entre population’s loyalty being rewarded with French citizenship.
In 1960, the popular politician Félix Houphouët-Boigny became the nation’s first black leader at Independence, though this ushered in over 3 decades of one party rule and vanity projects such as the extraordinary basilica of the Virgin of Peace at Yamoussoukro, the modern capital, based on St. Peter’s in Rome and currently the world’s largest church. Coups, dictators, periods of democracy and civil war have characterised the nation’s nascent development, yet Ivory Coast stands as one of West Africa’s economic success stories. The opulence on show in Le Plateau district of Abidjan, its Presidential Tower, La Pyramide and the cutting edge modernity of the cathedral all speak of a bright future for a country just beginning to recognise that its rich tribal past may prove the greatest asset in securing its wealthy future.