La Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix, Yamoussoukro

On September 30th, I left Daloa for Abidjan so I could leave the next day for a week’s vacation next door in Ghana. About halfway between the two cities is Yamoussoukro, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire since 1983. One of the strange things about this quiet, planned city is the massive Catholic basilica visible from far away, which looks like it’s been airlifted from Rome and dropped in the middle of a big field (other strange things include the crocodiles in the man-made lakes and the wide boulevards lined with street lights that have been out of commission for years).

Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

My driver and I decided we should take a look inside, so I paid the small entrance fees and we got a one hour guided tour. Built between 1986-1989, the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace Basilica) is an imitation of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the most important church in the Catholic faith. The one in Côte d’Ivoire, however, is even BIGGER.

Frontal view of Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

The stone columns supporting the weight of the church are enormous. In the background, you can see some large stained glass windows:

Pillars of Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

On entering the church, we were surrounded by colourful stained glass windows in all directions.

Stained glass windows in Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire
Stained glass windows in Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

This stained glass window includes a number of people kneeling down below Jesus. The man kneeling directly below Jesus is Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the former President of Côte d’Ivoire and the man behind the church’s construction, which was quite controversial.

Stained glass windows in Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

We then stepped into an elevator inside one of the large stone columns in the church, and within a few seconds were out on the flat rooftop 34 metres off the ground.

One of the smaller domes of Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

Looking down from the roof into the huge courtyard, I was reminded of the night in March 2003 I spent with four friends sleeping at the base of the columns of St Peter’s in Rome, shivering in the winter cold, because all the youth hostels in town were either full or closed by the time we arrived from the airport.

Front courtyard of Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

Back inside, we stared up at the domed ceiling with its stained glass and tried not to get too dizzy.

Stained glass ceiling in Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

Me and my driver:

Me and my driver in Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

Despite the height, I took a good look over the edge of the balcony to see the altar and seating area down below, which can hold several thousand people. There are vents for the air conditioning system at every single seat, built into the woodwork, in addition to air that comes blasting out of the big circular vents along the outer edge, visible in the upper right hand corner of this photo:

Looking down into the main church seating area, Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica, Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire

At first glance, the basilica in Yamoussoukro appears to be a close copy of St Peter’s in Rome, but on closer inspection it’s really quite different, and several metres taller, making it the tallest Catholic church in the world, half the height of the Eiffel Tower:

Comparison of St Peter's Basilica in Rome and Notre-Dame de la Paix Basilica in Yamoussoukro

After our tour ended, my driver was so happy with the visit that he told the guide he would return again on his own time to see more of the place. We then continued on to Abidjan, driving through heavy horizontal rains and trying our best to find the end of the rainbow:

Rainbow over the highway between Yamoussoukro and Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire

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