Guest Author - Dawn Denton
The French colonial town of Grand Bassam was one of the most important ports and administration centers in the Gulf of Guinea in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1893 it became the first capital of the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) and played a significant role as a large French trading post. The vibrant city attracted people from all over Africa and Europe and the mainly French architecture reflected the exciting mix of nationalities. The city was neatly divided into districts for housing, economics and judiciary functions.
Sadly from the late 1800s the city was abandoned due to the outbreak of Yellow Fever and administrative and governmental functions were also moved out. Up until the mid-1900s buildings were left to squatters and deteriorated structurally and aesthetically as commercial shipping also declined and eventually ceased completely.
The Ivory Coast gained independence in 1960 and by the 1970s Grand Bassam began a tourism revival. Hotels opened and the remarkable local crafts were reborn. Skilled craftsmen and women got back into making wooden and bronze carvings, traditional cloth and handmade pottery.
In 2012 the United Nations Organisation (UNO or UN) added the city to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage List. The over-reaching purpose of UNESCO is to build “peace in the minds of men and women” and its World Heritage List achieves this by protecting heritage and identity. It uses funding and expertise to ensure sites of natural or cultural importance are preserved for humanity.
Grand Bassam has in recent times been wrapped up in war and civil unrest, which has left this ghost town with little business, few customers and no visitors. The war has eased and peace agreements have been signed. It is now hoped that, along with peace, the inclusion on the Heritage List will allow for the restoration of some of their classic French colonial architectural structures and transform this historic town to attract customers and visitors. The five thousand permanent residents in Grand Bassam have faith in the future and know that UNESCO will help to bring the stability needed to bring their town back to life.