Considering the list of things to do in Benin, one major thing is its rich history alongside the Songhai Empire which was one of the most powerful houses in ancient Africa from the 14th to 16th century.
The people of old Bini Empire were known for their beautiful bronze artworks, still coveted works of art in many parts of the world. Today, in modern-day Nigeria, the new Benin is home to people of Oredo local government area – the capital of Edo State, South-South Nigeria.
The journey from Benin City to Lagos takes about 6 hours by road (an hour by air), quite an interesting route for a road trip. You get to explore striking landmarks, beautiful bungalows and interesting shantytowns down the road.
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Another industrial city, with rich culture and history, depicted in many parts. Notably, the British invasion of the Bini Empire along the Benin roundabout, Emotan statue – the first market woman in Bini empire around the 15th century.
For if you intend to explore these interesting things in the city’s touristy quarters, visit during the dry months of November to February.
The Oba of Benin Palace
The Oba of Benin palace is located in the heart of the city. It has been there since 900 AD when Oba Ewedo (1255 AD – 1280 AD) broke ground and built what is known as one of the largest royal houses in Africa. The British and Benin war in 1897 brought most of the structure down which led to Oba Eweka II (1914 – 1932) rebuilding one-tenth of the initial plan in 1914, maintained to date.
Fast-forward 1999, the palace was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, preserved for cultural and educational purpose. The palace is decorated with different local arts, crafts and historical items depicting the old and the new Benin.
It’s a sacred place in Benin with explicit do’s and don’ts preserved for centuries, adhered to by the Benin people for the continuity of the kingdom. Some of the strict laws include restraining from wearing colour black and red in the presence of the Oba, prohibition of umbrellas since it’s only the Oba that is allowed to use it.
The Benin Moat
The Iya (Benin moat) was said to be the biggest man-made earthwork in the world, built solely as a protection for the old Bini Kingdom. Circling the old perimeter of the city, its immense size and precision amazed visitors.
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The Iya started with Oba Oguola (1280 – 1295) who installed the first two moats with the aim of being battle-ready and the safety of his people. His Influence caused the other kings to continue in his footsteps and create this rare wonder for the world to behold.
Chief Ogiamen’s House
The Great chief Ogiamen’s house is part of the old palace which was built around 1130 AD and now located between the Benin city wall and the Moat.
It was the only surviving building following the sack by the British in 1897. It has since been taken under the wings of the National Monuments for preservation and education of the new generation.
It is also known as the Igun street. It used to be a part of the 31 guilds of the Old Bini Kingdom notable for its brass and bronze castings, including trinkets coveted by the colonial masters some of which can still be found in present-day art museums worldwide.
Igun-Eronmwon quarters is a UNESCO heritage site. It sees a lot of visitors, both local and international, being the home of the best Bronze and Brass sculptors in the world. They also get to watch the making of these beauties.
The Local markets
Explore local markets like the Oba market, Agbado market, Osa, Ohila, Ikpoba hill market amongst other markets in Benin City. These markets are either open daily, at a five-day interval or on fortnights depending on their council.
You can shop for things common to Benin City to take home on your return as a souvenir and also get familiar with locals.
Egedege N’Okaro is the 2nd storey building in Nigeria, built by the Inne of Benin, High Chief Osawe Iyamu in 1906.
Benin National Museum
The National Museum of Benin is believed to have started right within the Oba of Benin’s palace. It showcases the beautiful artworks of the most talented artisans in Benin and the whole of Nigeria. The present-day structure was completed and commissioned in 1973.
About 16 museums, mostly in Britain and Germany, purchased the works of the Bini Empire. The British Museum sold around 30 objects back to Nigeria between the 1950s and the 1970s. A trip to the National Museum is among things to do in Benin as it broadens your knowledge of the richness of the kingdom and Nigeria at large.
Okomu National park
This is a wildlife sanctuary which has the original rainforest vegetation in Ovia South Local government area of Edo state. It is home to endangered species like Buffaloes, porcupines, antelopes, birds, chimpanzees and the almost extinct white-throated monkeys.
The statue of the beautiful and hardworking woman Emotan, the first woman who ran a daycare in the Benin Kingdom as far back as the 15th Century. Her statue was erected as a tribute to her patriotism.
You’ll find it in the same spot, where she sold her wares in the Oba’s market many years ago. Make sure you lookout for a regal woman dressed in the customary Benin people’s wrapper girding her chest down with a dramatic headgear and trinkets to match.
Not mentioning Ughoton village would be like we are severing the relationship between the Benin people and Yorubas. History has it that Prince Ekaladerhan was banished to this village alongside his mother who later wandered about until they arrived at Ile-Ife to create the land and said to be the father of the Yoruba clan which is why Benin people and Yorubas are referred to as cousins. Also in Ughoton village is the shrine of the Olokun priest who went to Brazil to learn about Christianity.
Gele Gele Sea Port
It has a significant meaning to the Benin people as it was where the first Portuguese Ship docked around 1400’s to meet the then ruler Oba Ewuare. It opened opportunities for trade between the Bini Kingdom and the world where their rubber produce was exported to be made into end products in the West. This port also facilitated the slave trade during this era.
This festival came about as a ritual to fortify Oba Ewuare’s powers which are always observed within Christmas to New year where the Oba blesses his land and the people and is not permitted to see foreigners until after the ceremonies.