Abomey

Overview

Introduction

This town has several sights related to the time when it was the capital of the ancient Dahomey Kingdom. Begin at the Abomey Royal History Museum, established over the remains of the once-grand Royal Palaces of Abomey (classified as an endangered site on UNESCO's World Heritage List). Various restoration projects have been undertaken. We recommend that you see the museum with a guide (if it's not included in the price of entry, go ahead and pay the extra fee). The details he'll point out and the stories he'll tell—apocryphal or not—are wonderful. Within the museum are huge carved animals—the blue chameleon and the copper lion are standouts—and a collection of tapestries that depict local historical events (including one scene in which a king is beating an enemy with the victim's severed leg).

The tombs of the Royal Palace of Djime are also worth seeing, and if your timing is good your visit may coincide with one of the days when women take food to the site to "feed" the dead (this occurs every market day). Feel free to wander into the workshops of the local cloth weavers (who produce beautiful, symbolic designs) and blacksmiths to observe and shop.

If you're interested in handcrafted wooden statues, ebony products and tapestries, you can also spend several hours wandering among the stalls in the Abomey market. Adjacent to the market is a post office building (where you'll find public phones and fax machines) as well as Aux Delices de France, a modern store where you can buy most food and toiletry items.

As you stroll around town, be on the lookout for a lump of sacred soil (the family's vodou fetish) in front yards: Some may also have evidence of recent animal sacrifice, or offerings of food may have recently been left before them. This is also a good town in which to have your fortune told or to have a potion made up for you by a vodou practitioner.

About 37 mi/60 km north of Abomey is the picturesque city of Dassa-Zoume. Forty-one rocky hills filled with vodou shrines surround Dassa-Zoume, and Catholics from throughout West Africa and farther make an annual pilgrimage each August to a nearby cave in which the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared. Abomey is 90 mi/145 km northwest of Cotonou.

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