Bassam was the first capital of Côte d’Ivoire. Walking through its streets always feels like going through a time travel machine with anachronistic elements.
Grand-Bassam was the first capital from 1893 to 1900 and in July 2012, it’s Quartier France neighbourhood became UNESCO world heritage. Quartier France can be found in Ancien Bassam, a little away from Nouveau Bassam which is where all the hustle and bustle of the city takes place now. Quartier France is where most of the colonial era architecture and other footprints are located. There is so much to see but here a list of a few things to do and people to meet.
Our adventure starts at the Centre Céramique on Rue Bouët south of the river Comoé. The building used to be the Cercle de l’Union built in 1910 and serving as a leisure centre for the local colons. There you will be able to buy beautiful artefacts made by local artisans. Classes are also available along exhibitions and workshops.
Adama the cloth weaver
Adama is a local weaver of Kente loin cloths. The many colours of his fabrics as well as the mastery of his craft are the reasons why you will be fascinated enough to get closer. He practices his art right opposite the Centre Céramique.
The Woman In White
There is a tribute monument to the French who died in 1899 of the yellow fever epidemic and which caused Bingerville to become the second capital of the Ivory Coast in 1900. Amongst the 60 Europeans living in the city at the time, only 15 survived. The woman at the top of the monument is supposed to represent a woman who on returning from the market found her husband dead hence the man lying beneath her. This monument can be found at the end of the Boulevard Treich-Lapléne on the West side of the boulevard.
Nice Little Things Along The Way
There was a small street which almost had a feel of a Northern Hemisphere street in Autumn with all the brown leaves on the floor. One house on the street was named ‘La cité des Kokomas’, which seems to be referring to a local fruit, but this is hard to know for sure. There was also what must have been an old derelict factory and the Compagnie Française de l’Afrique de l’Ouest or CFAO founded in 1877 and still active today selling among other things cars and pharmaceuticals. Opposite this building a nicely paved walk lining the river Comoé led us to the Société Commerciale de l’Ouest Africain which contrary to CFAO was dissolved in 1998.
Turning once again south of the river, a wonderful gem, the Cathedral Sacré-Coeur a yellow building impossible to miss. The mission was established in 1895 and although it cannot rival the cathedrals of Europe or even our very own Cathedral Saint Paul du Plateau, it is still an architectural gem which deserves to be visited. It has this feel of Latin American village church which enhances its charm.
Les PTT a.k.a The Postal Services
Continuing straight south and turning right you will find an imposing building white and green which used to be the post office and built in 1894. The building parts were imported from Europe and assembled by Ivoirian builders. At the time the ground floor was used as an office or warehouse and the top part as a living space. There is still the ‘PTT’ inscribed on what looks like a gable in the middle. This building now serves as the Maison du Patrimoine Culturel. This institution created in 2003 is responsible mainly for the conservation and the promotion of the cultural heritage of Grand-Bassam. The permanent photography exhibition shows the old colonial Bassam.
Michel Kodjo is the first Ivoirian artist to have exhibited his work independently before the independence of the Ivory Coast. His gallery situated on the top floor of the PTT. He says of himself that he is an artist and not an artisan because all his creations are from the mind and not from something that already exists. We believe in his position as dean of art in the Ivory Coast, he can be considered as a monument, and even a living one of which to take advantage while he is still there.
La Maison des Artistes
On the Boulevard Treich-Laplène and heading East you will see La Maison des Artistes Plasticiens de Grand-Bassam. This an old building in which are hidden works by a collective of artists. Pictures are forbidden as there have been instances of work being resold on the internet as postal cards without any credit given to the original artist. The warm welcome we think deserves that you take a peek to see for yourselves.
The Court of Justice and the National Museum of the Traditional Costumes
Right next to it is a derelict building which used to be the Court of. On the same side of the road you will find less exciting buildings such as the Ministry of Agriculture and the local court opposite which are the prefecture and the National Museum of the Costume. The latter is in charge of the conservation of the costumes of the peoples of the Ivory Coast. It was renovated in 2012 but was open as a museum in 1980. Prior to this it was the residence of the different governors of the city from 1893-1902. It used to be called the Palace of Governors and this inscription can still be found on the front of the building. There is an amazing guide who will enlighten you on all you need to know on the Ivorian indigenous fashion landscape.
Our adventure took an end some miles away after we met Nick Amon, a local artist who has a workshop/exhibition space not far from the Hotel Etoile du Sud. He helps the community by teaching children how to paint. He himself produces works that are half-abstract, half-figurative. His local is situated in the vicinity of the General hospital, a curious building built in 1905 a few miles east of Boulevard Treich-Laplène.
Grand-Bassam is often in the news because of the derelict condition of most of the buidings situated in the Ancien Bassam neighbourhood but it is hard not to appreciate the atmosphere created by these old buildings. Take a day trip at the weekend and you’ll be ready to start afresh on Monday for the week ahead.