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What are the Royal Palaces of Abomey?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2016
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The Royal Palaces of Abomey are a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country of Benin. The Royal Palaces of Abomey consist of a number of different palaces, built in roughly the same area by the kings of the Kingdom of Dahomey.

In the early-17th century, the Aja people moved from the coast into the interior, over time subjugating the Fon. Their leader, Wegbaja, established a kingdom in the region, called the Kingdom of Dahomey. The Kingdom of Dahomey was notoriously bloody, and engaged in human sacrifice on a fairly massive scale. Thousands of people would be sacrificed on certain events, often to commemorate the conquering of a people or victory in a decisive battle.

The Kingdom of Dahomey grew quite powerful in the region over the next two centuries. The monarchy of Dahomey was absolute, with the kings owning absolutely everything and every person who came under their rule. They became very wealthy by selling conquered people to Europeans as slaves, and used this wealth to buy Western firearms and to further expand their territorial rule.

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Beginning in about 1625, the kings of Dahomey began to build their royal dwellings in the region that is now known as the Royal Palaces of Abomey. By the end of the Kingdom in the late-19th century, there were more than twelve Royal Palaces of Abomey. In the 1890s, during the Second Franco-Dahomean War, the French fought, and eventually overcame, the Kingdom of Dahomey. In the various battles, most of the Royal Palaces of Abomey were destroyed.

Today, only two of the Royal Palaces of Abomey still remain. Both are from the 19th century, and represent the dwellings of the ninth and tenth kings of Dahomey, King Ghezo and King Glélé. Inside the complexes of the Royal Palaces of Abomey are what are essentially cultural museums, with a number of historic artifacts from the era of the Kingdom of Dahomey.

Many people might be surprised to actually see the Royal Palaces of Abomey, as they do not fit most Western conceptions of what palaces look like. The complexes are basically large courtyards surrounded by fairly non-descript buildings made of mud bricks. The buildings were originally thatched, but have since been covered with tin roofs to better protect them from the elements.

The most impressive aspect of the Royal Palaces of Abomey is the walls that surround the compound. These walls are quite high, and incredibly sturdily made. According to legend the walls themselves were made with the blood of those sacrificed to the ancestors of the kings. The walls contain a number of very intricate bas-reliefs, which are considered the highpoint of the visit for most tourists. There are some bas-reliefs on the outside walls, which are available to be photographed, but the bulk of the highest-quality reliefs are on the inner walls, where photography is not allowed.

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