FabAfriq Magazine

The Walls of Benin City of Nigeria : An Archeological , Technological and Historical Wonder In the Pre-Mechanical World


This is the story of a lost medieval city. Others include the great empire of Mali ruled by Mansa Musa at one point. The walls of Benin constitutes a series of earthworks made up of banks and ditches, called “Iya” in the Edo language. It is located in the area around present-day Benin City, in Edo State- Nigeria. They consist of 15 kilometers of city Iya and an estimated 16 000 kilometers in the rural area around Benin. All of this is in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. While some experts hold that the walls were constructed between the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, others believe it was constructed in the first millennium CE. The walls stood for over 400 years, and was one of the main ways through which the Edo people protected the inhabitants of the kingdom, as well as their culture, traditions and entire civilization.

Unprecedented design and technological advancements far ahead of their time.

The planning of the city was not haphazard, but was done following very careful rules of symmetry and proportionality, what is known as “fractal design”. In all, it is four times longer than the Great Wall of China and consumed more than 150 hours of digging to construct, all done by the people of Benin. It demanded a hundred times more construction material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. This wall, is perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet- a real wonder! The city itself is the first city to have a semblance of street lighting, with huge metal lamps, many feet high, built and placed around the city.

In 1691, the Portuguese ship captain Lourenco Pinto said the following of the city: “Great Benin, where the king resides, is larger than Lisbon. All the streets run straight and as far as the eye can see. The houses are large, especially that of the king, which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well governed that theft is unknown, and the people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses.”

Benin City was one of the best planned cities in the world when London was a place of ‘thievery and murder’. So why is nothing left?


The Remnants of the world and the city of Benin today.

The advent of imperialistic expansion from the West and the subsequent intrusion of Europeans in African societies, with the accompanying slavery and destruction it brought along ravaged existent African cities and kingdoms. Benin City with all the splendor of its walls, development and glory was sadly not left out. Even our collective memory has forgotten about them. Today what was used to be called Benin is now called by Nigerian Edo state.




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