Benin City

Benin City is both the current capital of Nigeria's Edo State and the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Benin. Its ruler, or Oba, and his over 300 chiefs still exert a powerful influence over this contemporary town. The names of former monarchs grace street signs, school names, and other public buildings. In the center of town, traffic stops for thanksgiving ceremonies, funerals, and royal festival processions.

The palace is still the town's hub, since the major thoroughfares radiate from its King's Square, which once was part of the royal compound, then housed colonial structures, and now is the site of the National Museum, Benin, ringed by sculptures.

While Benin City's cultural and religious traditions are more visible than they are in many parts of Nigeria, Christianity has had a significant impact on the city. Roman Catholics and Pentecostalists make up the bulk of the city's Christians, although Anglicans (Church of Nigeria), Baptists, and other denominations are present as well. Mosques and a Hari Krishna temple cater to smaller numbers of citizens.

Human settlement in southern Nigeria occurred by at least the first millennium BCE, but the precise date of Benin's foundation as a community is unknown. It appears to have been one of several similarly-sized towns until the 11th century. By then, under the Ogiso dynasty, it began its ascent as a cultural and political center, erecting walls to demarcate its territory. By the late 13th century, that dynasty died out, and an oligarchy of chiefs led by Evian ruled. Monarchists sent to the west for a leader, and Oranmiyan traveled from the Yoruba city of Ile-Ife to found a new dynasty. Finding it difficult to enter the city and establish himself, he fathered an heir and left. After several of his descendants reigned in a figurehead capacity at the city's outskirts, Oba Ewedo made an agreement with Ogiamien, Evian's descendant, and triumphantly took the city. Successive monarchs expanded the city into an empire, especially Obas Ewuare, Ozolua, Esigie, Orhogbua, and Ehengbuda, with the city its imperial capital.

At its height, Benin ruled significant sections of Yorubaland, the Igbo communities west of the Niger, the Esan and Northern Edo, and some Urhobo and Isoko. This accomplishment is all the more remarkable because most of the kingdom was heavily forested, so the use of horses to enforce boundaries and aid in tribute collection was not possible, as it was in larger, open-savannah states. Benin was one of the last major polities to fall to colonialism, when the British invaded in 1897 and exiled the Oba to Calabar. His son, Oba Eweka II, was enthroned at his death in 1914. The Oranmiyan dynasty continues to rule. Its current monarch, Oba Ewuare II, is a Rutgers University graduate and former ambassador to Angola, Sweden, and Italy.

Benin City served as the capital of Mid-West State, its offspring Bendel State, and the current Edo State, where the monarch remains the permanent chairman of the state's Council of Traditional Rulers. As such, it is the site of the state Supreme Court, the Governor's Office, and various other administrative structures. Home to the University of Benin (UNIBEN), it now also boasts Benson Idahosa University, a religious-affiliated school. and the private Wellspring University. Although Benin is not as industrialized as some Nigerian cities, Guinness Breweries, John Holt Engineering, Zartech Ltd., Global Horn PVC, and numerous petroleum companies complement many smaller businesses. Benin City remains a major transit hub, as its highways are the gateway to the eastern states, as well as Abuja.

This tour will expand to include more Benin City entries as they are added.

Benin Walls and Moats (Iya)

Benin still shows the remains of two ancient enclosure walls with exterior ditches, known as iya in Edo, and "moat" in English. Parts of the earthen walls were up to 65 feet tall and originally covered with thorny bushes. The inner iya delineated the…

Oba's Palace, Benin City, Nigeria

The Benin palace (eguae) shares many contemporary elements with royal accommodations worldwide: air conditioning, electricity, electronics, and a glamorous new facade–an innovation of the current monarch, Oba Ewuare II. Altars to the monarchs of the…

Ring Road, Benin City, Nigeria

Ring Road is one of Benin City's busiest intersections, with major roads such as Akpakpava, Airport, Sapele, Forestry, Old Sakpoba, and other streets running off the roundabout in spoke-like fashion. In the middle stands the National Museum,…

Home of Chief Isekhure

Chief Nosa Isekhure, the hereditary chief priest of the Oba, belongs to the Ihogbe guild, the palace group that tends the royal ancestors. The Erimwi-Idu royal ancestral shrine was erected in his home for convenient prayer centuries ago, as was an…
Many thanks to the late Omo n'Oba n'Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa, for research access, and to his chiefs and citizens for their interest and cooperation during my research.