Grand-Bassam’s ornate colonial buildings are a striking symbol of France’s onetime rule over Ivory Coast, but officials in the former capital say its glory days are yet to come. While some local architectural treasures have been restored, many of the elegant arched doorways, pillars and verandas of the city’s French quarter are crumbling into ruins — and conserving the colonial facades that won the town UNESCO World Heritage status is a priority in 2015, its centennial year.
But authorities say they’re focused on building a future for Grand-Bassam, home to 80,000 people, as well as trying to preserve its past. A brand new university has sprung up, while the mayor hopes a planned biotechnology centre will bring a touch of Silicon Valley to the sleepy seaside resort. “For us, the celebration of the centenary signals the renaissance of the historical town,” said the king of Grand-Bassam Amon Tanoe.
Clad in a multicoloured loincloth with a long golden chain around his neck, the former diplomat holds the city’s traditional leadership and presides alongside municipal authorities. The city is marking its centenary in 2015 — 100 years after it was declared Ivory Coast’s first administrative municipality — even though it was founded as a trading post on the Gulf of Guinea years earlier. French rulers turned Grand-Bassam, which lies 35 kilometres (22 miles) east of Ivory Coast’s current commercial hub Abidjan, into the capital in the last decade of the 19th century, until an epidemic of yellow fever in 1899 killed two thirds of the colonial settlers.