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We explored Yamoussoukro, a place transformed from village into capital city when it most famous son, Houphouet-Boigny, became Cote d'Ivoire's dictator-for-life and decided to make his birthplace the country's centerpiece. Observant visitors can plainly see that Yamoussoukro has had 'capitalness' imposed upon it without any other logic except nepotism. Wide boulevards, lined by coconut trees, run out of the city leading to nowhere besides a few small government buildings. The president's palace has the best view of the most impressive site in town, the Basilica Notre Dame de la Paix. This is the world's tallest Christian church. Personally financed by President Boigny at incredible cost (estimated at $300 million, half of Cote d'Ivoire's national debt at the time). Local construction workers and a Lebanese architect erected it in 3 years from 1986-1989 while the national hospital project languished on the drawing board (the hospital is still unbuilt). It should be a symbol of African wealth squandered. For spiritual emergencies, this church has its own helopad. It has enjoyed full attendance once, when the Pope visited for its inauguration. It was empty when we visited, so we had the place to ourselves.
Yamoussoukro's wide, smooth, and empty avenues. Most major African highways are smaller and in worse shape.
The church dominates Yamoussoukro and the surrounding jungle.
Yamoussoukro's basilica: bigger than St Peter's in Rome, big enough to fit the Notre Dame of Paris inside, its construction used over 7 acres of marble and covers over 3 hectares of land. Seven thousand people can sit in air-conditioned pews while another 11,000 can stand in the aisles. Three hundred thousand people can attend in the courtyard. Ironically, they're aren't that many Christians in Cote d'Ivoire. How many people visit this massive church on an average Sunday mass? Two hundred.
With such mammoth proportions rising from nowhere, the basilica feels as if it should be in DisneyWorld or Las Vegas. It has coin-operated candlelight at the altar.