was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dahomey
(in the modern West African nation of Benin
. The kingdom was established about 1625. The royal palaces of Abomey are a group of earthen structures built by the Fon people between the mid-17th and late 19th Centuries. One of the most famous and historically significant traditional sites in West Africa, the palaces form one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites
The town was surrounded by a mud wall with a circumference estimated at six miles (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911), pierced by six gates, and protected by a ditch 5 ft. deep, filled with a dense growth of prickly acacia, the usual defence of West African strongholds. Within the walls, were villages separated by fields, several royal palaces, a market-place and a large square containing the barracks. In November 1892, Behanzin, the last independent reigning king of Dahomey, being defeated by French colonial forces, set fire to Abomey and fled northward. The French colonial administration rebuilt the town and connected it with the coast by a railroad, bringing Abomey into the modern world.
When UNESCO designated the royal palaces of Abomey as a World Heritage Site in 1985 it stated
- From 1625 to 1900 twelve kings succeeded one another at the head of the powerful Kingdom of Abomey. With the exception of King Akaba, who used a separate enclosure, they each had their palaces built within the same cob-wall area, in keeping with previous palaces as regards the use of space and materials. The royal palaces of Abomey are a unique reminder of this vanished kingdom.
From 1993, 50 of the 56 bas-reliefs that formerly decorated the walls of King Glèlè (1858-1889) (now termed the 'Salle des Bijoux') have been located and replaced on the rebuilt structure. The bas-reliefs carry an iconographic program expressing the history and power of the Fon people.
For non-West Africans, the historical empire that was governed from the 14th Century until 1897 by the Oba of Benin
, from a seat of power sited at Benin City
in present-day Nigeria, is easily confused with the modern nation of Benin
, formerly the French colony of Dahomey
, Nigeria's neighbor to the west.
Fon Kings of Dahomey at Abomey: