The Great Walls of Benin has stood over 1,200 years of Benin history to be recognized as an international monument. Though it is no longer standing, it is still one that conjures emotions in the mind of the Benin people.
It might not be as famous as the Great wall of China or as beautiful as the city walls of Dubrovnik in Croatia, but it is at one time in history the largest man-made structure in the world ever carried out prior to the mechanical era.
The Great Walls of Benin was constructed over a period 600 years. Its foundation is over 500 years older than the Oyo Empire, about 1000 years older than the Sokoto Caliphate and over 100 years older than the Nri kingdom.
What we know as The Great Walls of Benin is nothing but a rampart and moat constructed around the ancient kingdom of Benin. The excavated earth from the moat was used to form the walls. They were both used as a defence for the ancient city.
The moat was dug by the might of the Edo people. It was estimated to take over 150 million hours of digging. If this digging is to be done today, it would have cost over 1.08 billion dollars for just labour using the USA’s federal minimum wage per hour.
This amount is equal to about 330 billion Naira in today’s official exchange rate. This amount can build 3 second Niger Bridges and still pay 2500 unemployed graduates an annual gross salary of 1.2 million Naira for 10 years.
Construction work on the wall began around 800 AD and ended mid-1400.
The Great walls of Benin, apart from being the second largest man-made structure after the Great Wall of China, it is also the largest man-made earthwork in the world.
It was estimated to extend for about 16000 Km in length; both the exterior and interior walls. It occupied a land mass of 6500 km2, which is about 37 percent of the present land mass of Edo State.
In the year 1897, less than 500 after the completion of The Great Walls, the British led an expedition that ravaged the walls. This expedition destroyed about 1,100 years of Benin history and one of the evidence of African civilization.
It was led by Admiral Sir Harry Rawson during the reign of Oba Ovonramwen, in a military campaigned termed “The Punitive Expedition”. The expeditionary force was made up of 1,200 British soldiers. It brought an end to the great Benin Kingdom and led to the looting numerous Benin historical artefacts. The arts were relocated to Britain. They sit majestically in various British museums reminding visitors of the British impunity of 1897.
In 1995, The Great Walls of Benin was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in the cultural category.
The Great Walls of Benin was located at the southern border of the Great Benin Kingdom. For over 400 years it protected about 500 villages that made up the kingdom. It defended the sacred traditions and civilization of the Edo people until the punitive expedition.
Though sitting in ruins now, The Great Walls of Benin tell the story of what an African mind can do. It tells the story of the resilience of an average African person.