From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Walls of Benin were a combination of ramparts and moats, called Iya in the local language, used as a defense of the historical Benin City, formerly of the now defunct Kingdom of Benin and now the capital of the present-day Edo State of Nigeria. It was considered the largest man-made structure lengthwise, second only to the Great Wall of China, and was hailed as the largest earthwork in the world. With more recent work by Patrick Darling [of Bournemouth University, UK], it has been established as the largest man-made structure in the world, larger than Sungbo’s Eredo [another massive earthworks in Ijebu Ode]. It enclosed 6,500 km² of community lands. Its length was over 16,000 km of earth boundaries. It was estimated that earliest construction began in 800 AD and continued into the mid 1400’s.
The walls are built of a ditch and dike structure; the ditch dug to form an inner moat with the excavated earth used to form the exterior rampart.
The Benin Walls were ravaged by the British in 1897 during what has come to be called the Punitive expedition.
Scattered pieces of the structure remain in Edo, with the vast majority of them being used by the locals for building purposes. Sadly, what remains of the wall itself continues to be torn down for real estate developments.
Fred Pearce wrote in New Scientist:
“They extend for some 16,000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6,500 square kilometres and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops [in Giza, Egypt]. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet.
Benin City, the ancient Edo Capital of Great Benin Kingdom is still surrounded by a huge mound of earth known as inner wall, as high and as wide as a two storey building six miles long, surrounding the most important part of Benin. Outside this wall is a ditch as deep and as wide as the wall. Both the wall and the ditch were still quite new when the Portuguese first came in 1472 A.D. A massive fortified earthwork entrance gate guarded travelers way in. it was supported by timber and watched by soldiers with swords slung under their left armpits. A heavy wooden door built to specification closed the gate.
Normally, a traveler bringing goods into the city would have to pay a toll before the gate was opened. Ahead of the travelers as far as they could see, ran a long street, forty yards wide, full of people, and among them the occasional goats or hen, domestic animals. About a mile ahead, they noticed a huge tree standing by itself, and beyond that the road still ran into distance.
There were high earthen walls, dull red colour, carefully smoothed into a series of horizontal ripples. The tops of these walls were roofed to prevent them being washed away by the rain. A great thatched gate could be seen guarded by more soldiers and beyond this gate was a glimpse of steeply sloping roofs and pointed towers. At the top of each of these towers, the evening sunlight gleamed on bronze eagles.
From the main highway ran a number of broad streets, dividing the city into quarters or wards. The streets were clean and free from rubbish. The ward Chiefs were responsible for the cleanliness. Each householder was expected to keep his section of the street clean, and the red mud surface of the house walls neat and polished, till, as one European was to say “it shone like a looking glass”.
The Benin-Ughoton road was a gate way for oversea trades, leading over many centuries of the prosperity and enlightenment which go with trades, had the main gate leading to Benin City on Oroghotodin Road (i) at the inner moat before Uzebu. Another gate was situated at the moat near Oguola Avenue in the G.R.A. (ii) a trade route of those from ikpokpan Ugbor and the Iyokeogba districts. Then the Idunmwu- Ivbioto gateway (iii) of the trades from Nana and Warri districts.
The Utantan gate way (iv) controlled the routes from Ugu Iyekeorhionmwon districts, and the Ogiso Oke-Edo gate way (v) of the trade routes from Ugo n’eki, Ika, Urhonigbe, Ukwani and Aniocha. The Okhoro trade routes (vi) controlled all trades from Eyaen, Ehor and Esan districts, while the Ifon gate way (vii) Controlled the trades from Ifon, Ora, Ivbiosakon and Etsako districts and also from Lagos and Ibadan.
The Urubi gateway (viii) controlled all trades from Uselu, Ekiadolo, Igbogor, Usen districts. The Oloton gate way (ix) controlled the trades from Isiuloko, Ogbese and other riverine areas as fro- as from itigiere, Atigiere.
Iron rods came from Europe through Ughoton port to Benin. The four blacksmith Guilds of the City, the Igun Nekhua, the Eyaen-Nugie, the Igun n’ Iwegie and the Igun n’ Ugboha had endured a permanent state of metal hunger, subsisting on the trickles of Iron Ore which came down from Uneme and Agbede Lands, but with plentiful supplies of the purified metal arriving as rods from the foundries of Europe through Ughoton gateway, the Edo City guilds went into un-relenting and accelerated production of agricultural, domestic and martial implements, which were used to sustain the wealth and the security of the Olden days Benin.
The currency in which the Benin overseas trade was conducted broughtblessings to the land. The metal type of currency, the manilla, enabled the technology of brass-casting to be developed to its fullest extent. The sea-shell type of currency, the cowries, enhanced the liquidity of the economy of Great Benin.
Guns, gun powder, cannon and lead, arrived through Ughoton gate way, facilitated the extension and maintenance of the Great Benin Empire.
Foreign ideas, enriching society came through the Ughoton gate way.Christianity arrived through the Oroghotodin, making Benin the first place where Christianity was preached and made a state religion.
Despite the internal tributes passing through the nine gateways into Benin City, the arrival of the Portuguese coincided with a period of great political and artistic development. Their coming acted as a catalyst in this process. Their impact was many sided; military,economic, cultural, artistic and even linguistic.
Traders supplied the important Luxury items Benin so desired; coral beads, cloth for ceremonial attire and great quantities of brass manilas which could be melted down for casting.
In return for these goods, Benin provided the Portuguese with pepper, cloth, Ivory and Bronze casting. Benin craftsmen were busy carving Ivory objects ranging from spoons with handles, carved animals or birds, sold at modest prices to sailors, and merchants from far and near. Hence Edorisiuwa, Edorisiagbon, Edo Centre of excellence, earth bound and Edo ne-evbo ahirhe, where one prays to belong.
The Benin-Portuguese Ivories are a blending of status imagery from two cultures; from Europe, there are Portuguese coats of arms, armillar spheres and scenes of the nobility and from Benin, the Guild designs reserved for royalty and views of nobles on horseback accompanied by retainers and equipped with swords, elaborate costumes, feathers and other Benin marks of rank and wealth. All these attracted the European Communities, the Spanish, the Dutch, German and the English to trade with Great Benin.
The nine gates of the beautiful ancient Benin Culture reminded of the security quotation from captain Lorenzo pinto “The people of Great Benin live in such security that they have no doors to their houses”.