What is the Capital of Ivory Coast?

Yamoussoukro is the capital of Ivory Coast. Although it’s the official capital, the country’s economic center and largest city is Abidjan.

Where is Yamoussoukro? © Mappr
Yamoussoukro, the capital city of Ivory Coast

Yamoussoukro is known for its grandiose and somewhat surreal landmarks and prominent features. Despite these grand structures, much of Yamoussoukro remains undeveloped, with the city’s layout consisting of a grid of paved streets intersecting vast expanses of grassy land and sporadic buildings.

Where is Yamoussoukro?

Yamoussoukro capital city pinned on political map© PX Media/Shutterstock
Yamoussoukro capital city pinned on political map

Yamoussoukro is located in the south-central region of Ivory Coast, also known as Côte d’Ivoire, in West Africa. It is approximately 240 kilometers, or 150 miles, northwest of Abidjan, the country’s economic capital and largest city. The city is situated in the country’s interior, away from the coastal areas in the Yamoussoukro district, one of the 14 administrative districts of Cote d’Ivoire.

Yamoussoukro is surrounded by savannah and forested hills. The city lies near the Bandama River, one of the longest rivers in the country. Its geographical coordinates are approximately 6.8 degrees north latitude and 5.3 degrees west longitude.

History of Yamoussoukro

Yamoussoukro has a history intimately tied to the modern development of Ivory Coast. It was once a small village and only became significant in the 20th century.

The village of Yamoussoukro was founded in the late 19th century by Queen Yamoussou, the niece of Baoulé leader, Queen Pokou. The name Yamoussoukro translates as “Yamoussou’s hometown.”

Hotel President, situated in Yamoussoukro© BOULENGER Xavier/Shutterstock
Hotel President, situated in Yamoussoukro, opened to the public in 1973 during the Côte d’Ivoire economic boom period under Félix Houphouët-Boigny.

For a significant part of the 20th century, Yamoussoukro was the ancestral home and private residence of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of Ivory Coast and a crucial figure in the country’s independence movement. Before becoming President, Houphouët-Boigny was a wealthy cocoa farmer and used his wealth to develop his hometown.

Interior of the catholic basilica of our lady of peace© Roman Yanushevsky/Shutterstock
Interior of the Catholic Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.

After Ivory Coast gained independence from France in 1960, Houphouët-Boigny became the first President. In 1983, he moved the capital from the coastal city of Abidjan to his hometown, Yamoussoukro, to stimulate growth in the country’s interior.

Houphouët-Boigny initiated massive construction projects in Yamoussoukro, including the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, which was completed in 1989 and is one of the largest Christian churches in the world. Other construction projects included large administrative buildings, hotels, and an artificial lake stocked with crocodiles.

Artificial Crocodile Lake in Yamoussoukro© Liking Leba/Shutterstock
Artificial Crocodile Lake in Yamoussoukro

Despite these efforts, the transfer of administrative structures and foreign embassies from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro has been slow, and Abidjan remains the country’s economic hub.

After the death of Houphouët-Boigny in 1993, the city’s growth slowed down. The political and economic crises that have affected Ivory Coast since the late 1990s have also impacted the city’s development.

Today, Yamoussoukro blends vast empty spaces and magnificent structures, symboling Houphouët-Boigny’s ambitious dreams for the city and the country. Its unique character continues to draw tourists, and it serves as an important location for understanding the modern history of Ivory Coast.

Features of Yamoussoukro

Yamoussoukro, the political capital of Ivory Coast, is known for several distinctive attributes and features.

Geography and Climate

Skyline of Yamoussoukro© Agre guy thony roger/Shutterstock
Skyline of Yamoussoukro

Yamoussoukro experiences tropical wet and dry weather. It has a long rainy season from March to July, a short dry season from August to September, a short rainy season from October to November, and a long dry season from December to March. The temperatures throughout the year are fairly consistent, with average highs ranging from about 30 to 34 degrees Celsius (86 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit).

Population

Yamoussoukro street vendors selling traditional bread to ongoing crowds© WILLAV-FR/Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0 International
Yamoussoukro street vendors selling traditional bread to ongoing crowds, a testament to the country’s French colonial past.

Yamoussoukro has a population of approximately 350,000 people. The city’s inhabitants are a mix of people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, as is typical in many African cities.

The city is home to the Baoulé, one of the largest ethnic groups in Ivory Coast. The official language is French, but many local languages are also spoken, including Baoulé.

Economy

Boulevard Nangui Abrogoua, one of the main commercial areas in Yamoussoukro© Ericcoul/Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0 International
Boulevard Nangui Abrogoua, one of the main commercial areas in Yamoussoukro.

Despite being the political capital of Ivory Coast, Yamoussoukro is not the main economic hub; this role falls to the country’s largest city, Abidjan. However, Yamoussoukro does have some economic activities.

Agriculture plays a vital role in the city’s economy, with the surrounding region being a significant producer of coffee, cocoa, and palm oil. The city has some industries, including a large cotton mill, and it’s the center of the country’s power grid, hosting a thermal power station and part of the country’s hydroelectric system.

Yamoussoukro is also home to the National Polytechnic Institute, which contributes to the local economy and serves as a center for education and research. Tourism, driven by landmarks like the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, also contributes to the city’s economy.

Things to Do and Places to See in Yamoussoukro

Yamoussoukro offers several activities and sightseeing opportunities. Here are some of the top-rated destinations and experiences in the city:

1. Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace

Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro
Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1990.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro is a sight. This magnificent Basilica is recognized by the Guinness World Records as the largest “church” in the world, surpassing even St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican in terms of overall size.

The Basilica is modeled after St. Peter’s but is topped by a slightly taller dome. The Basilica was constructed between 1985 and 1989 at an estimated cost of $300 million, and it was a project initiated by Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of Ivory Coast.

The Basilica is surrounded by a meticulously maintained garden that spreads over acres, reflecting the tranquillity that this place of worship is meant to inspire. The interior is just as stunning, featuring Italian marble, 7,000 square meters of contemporary stained glass from France, and a capacity to hold 18,000 worshippers. Whether religious or not, the sheer scale and detailed architecture of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace make it a must-visit.

2. Take a tour of the National Polytechnic Institute

Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny or INP-HB© BOULENGER Xavier/Shutterstock
Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny or INP-HB, established in 1996.

The National Polytechnic Institute in Yamoussoukro is one of the top educational institutions in Ivory Coast. The campus itself is impressively vast, featuring numerous buildings dedicated to various fields of study. The institute is focused on promoting science and technology, with faculties offering civil engineering, agriculture, mining, and more courses.

Visiting the institute can provide a unique perspective on the country’s educational priorities and aspirations. Although a tour of the institute may need to be arranged in advance, it is an opportunity to explore an often-overlooked side of Ivory Coast society.

3. Explore the Local Markets

Ivorian african woman with her daughter selling bread in the© Roman Yanushevsky/Shutterstock
Local Ivorian woman selling bread on the street markets of Yamoussoukro.

One of the best ways to understand local culture and daily life is by exploring the local markets in Yamoussoukro. These bustling hubs are filled with vendors selling various goods, from fresh produce and traditional foods to textiles, clothing, and handcrafted items.

Walking through the markets, you can immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of everyday life in Ivory Coast. It’s also a great opportunity to sample local cuisine, purchase unique souvenirs, and practice your haggling skills.

4. Cathédrale Saint Augustin de Yamoussoukro

Cathédrale Saint Augustin de Yamoussoukro© Zenman/Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
Cathédrale Saint Augustin de Yamoussoukro

The Cathédrale Saint Augustin, also known as St. Augustine’s Cathedral, is another great religious site in Yamoussoukro. This cathedral, though not as colossal as the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, is noted for its modern architecture and the serene environment it offers.

It is named after Saint Augustine, a Christian theologian and philosopher from Roman Africa. As a place of worship, it invites locals and visitors alike to participate in its religious services or enjoy its calm and sacred atmosphere.

5. Grande Mosquée de Yamoussoukro

The Grand Mosque of Yamoussoukro© itravelanddance/Flickr
The Grand Mosque of Yamoussoukro, dating back to 1963.

The Grande Mosquée de Yamoussoukro is a testament to the Islamic faith in Ivory Coast. This mosque, located in the Dioulakro neighborhood, is the city’s main Muslim place of worship. Its tall minarets and expansive courtyard make it a significant site for the local Muslim community.

The Grand Mosque serves as the primary place of worship for the Muslim population in Yamoussoukro and surrounding areas. It hosts the Friday prayer (Jumu’ah), Eid prayers, and other Islamic religious events.

The mosque is known for its peaceful ambiance, allowing devotees and visitors to contemplate quietly. Its architecture reflects traditional Islamic design elements, providing a beautiful backdrop for those interested in religious architecture.

6. Boigny Félix Houphouët Foundation for Peace

Boigny Félix Houphouët Foundation for Peace, created in 1973© Dany Couderc/Flickr
Boigny Félix Houphouët Foundation for Peace, created in 1973 to promote peace, understanding, and dialogue between peoples.

The Boigny Félix Houphouët Foundation for Peace is an organization that aims to promote serenity and resolve conflicts in Africa and the world. The foundation was named in honor of the first president of Ivory Coast, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who firmly believed in peaceful conflict resolution.

The foundation organizes numerous seminars, workshops, and conferences addressing various peace-related topics, making it a significant player in the peace and reconciliation processes in Ivory Coast and the broader West African region. The foundation’s headquarters provides a venue for these important discussions and is a notable landmark in Yamoussoukro.

7. Visit Kossou Lake

Kossou Lake, Despite, home to a diverse range of flora and fauna© Hanay/Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0 International
Kossou Lake, Despite, home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, contributing to the local ecosystem.

About an hour’s drive from Yamoussoukro is Lake Kossou, one of the largest artificial lakes in Ivory Coast. The lake was created in the 1970s with the construction of the Kossou Dam on the Bandama River, resulting in a vast reservoir now home to diverse wildlife.

The lake offers beautiful views, making it a great spot for a peaceful retreat from the city. Visitors can enjoy bird-watching, fishing, or soaking in the tranquil surroundings. Nearby, you’ll also find several small villages where you can learn more about rural life in Ivory Coast.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best time to visit Yamoussoukro?

The best time to visit Yamoussoukro is during the dry seasons, from December to March and August to September when the weather is more favorable for outdoor activities and sightseeing.

What is traditional food and cuisine like in Yamoussoukro?

The traditional cuisine in Yamoussoukro, similar to the rest of Ivory Coast, is rich and diverse, with staples like rice, maize, yams, and plantains. Common dishes include Attiéké (grated cassava), Kédjénou (a slow-cooked stew), and Aloko (fried plantains).

What souvenirs can I bring home from Yamoussoukro?

In Yamoussoukro, you can find a variety of unique souvenirs to take home. This includes traditional African clothing and textiles, locally made jewelry, wooden sculptures, and artwork. You can also find products made from cocoa, one of Ivory Coast’s major exports.

What is the currency in Yamoussoukro?

As in the rest of Ivory Coast, the currency in Yamoussoukro is the West African CFA franc (XOF).

How do I get to Yamoussoukro?

The city is accessible by road from Abidjan and other major cities in the country. There’s also an international airport, Yamoussoukro International Airport, just outside the city.

Is it safe to visit Yamoussoukro?

When visiting Yamoussoukro, it’s recommended to exercise heightened vigilance due to potential crime, civil disturbances, and threats of terrorism. The primary road linking Yamoussoukro with Bouaké and Korhogo has also seen armed robbery incidents. Thus, it would be best to avoid these areas if possible.

How can I get around in Yamoussoukro?

Yamoussoukro is relatively small and can be explored by car or taxi. Public transportation options are limited. Walking can also be a good way to get around, especially in the city center.

What cultural customs should I be aware of when visiting Yamoussoukro?

Ivorian people are generally warm and hospitable. Common greetings involve a firm handshake. French customs often apply because of the country’s colonial history. Tipping is appreciated but optional.

Final Thoughts

Yamoussoukro presents an intriguing blend of significant political structures, religious monuments, and rich local culture, making it a worthwhile destination for those interested in the less-explored facets of Ivory Coast.

Its distinctive highlights, such as the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace and the Presidential Palace, offer unique insights into the city’s historical and contemporary significance. However, potential visitors should stay informed about current security conditions and exercise caution during their stay.