When Benin City was Compared to Amsterdam, and much Bigger …

Benin City in 1897
Benin City in 1897

In the 15th century, a Dutch traveler visited the great Benin City, in West Africa, located in modern-day Nigeria, in Edo State. This man was visibly stunned by the beauty and the discipline of the people he met. The city he talks about, Benin City, was so much bigger than Amsterdam, the Dutch capital… and so much cleaner… As you read, please note the wealth of the Benin Kingdom, the well-ordered hierarchy, and lastly note the pride and discipline of the people of Benin City. Also note the mention of the great renowned Benin bronzed sculpting on the pillars. No wonder the British could not help but loot the city [Benin City: the Majestic City the British burnt to the ground] because greed and jealousy had the better of them. Below is his account:

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The town seems to be very great. When you enter into it, you go into a great broad street, not paved, which seems to be seven or eight times broader than the Warmoes street in Amsterdam….

Benin City around 1600
Benin City around 1600

The king’s palace is a collection of buildings which occupy as much space as the town of Harlem, and which is enclosed with walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince’s ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as big as those on the Exchange at Amsterdam. They are supported by wooden pillars encased with copper, where their victories are depicted, and which are carefully kept very clean.

The town is composed of thirty main streets, very straight and 120 feet wide, apart from an infinity of small intersecting streets. The houses are close to one another, arranged in good order. These people are in no way inferior to the Dutch as regards cleanliness; they wash and scrub their houses so well that they are polished and shining like a looking-glass.”

Source: “How Europe under-developed Africa,” by Walter Rodney, Howard Univ. Press, 1981, p. 69

 

3 thoughts on “When Benin City was Compared to Amsterdam, and much Bigger …

  1. Wow! I didn’t know Benin City was that big at the time. Thanks for spreading the knowledge about that city. It still boggles my mind how there’s a Benin City, but it’s in Nigeria. Then again, you do have a Kansas City in Missouri and a Nevada City in California in America, so I’m not sure. Benin City deserved so much better.

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    1. Yes… Actually the name “Benin” in Benin Kingdom or Benin City in Nigeria was originally “Bini” but Europeans spelled it the way they spelled so many things back then… The modern-day country of Benin was actually called Dahomey in the colonial era and even after its independence; but in 1975, then president Mathieu Kerekou changed its name to Benin because it was the last name of the thriving kingdom which had also encompassed regions of the country (this may be to distance from the colonial past?).
      Just like the country of Ghana today, is located south of where the great ancient Ghana empire was!

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      1. That’s right. I remember you telling me about Benin (the country) formally being part of Dahomey. That makes a bit of sense with the naming and you have some ethnic groups that live on both sides of the Benin/Nigeria border like the Yoruba for example. Good point about Ghana and you could even add Mali because it’s not all in the same spot of the Mali kingdom.

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