Along a Lagoon lies the chief port and capital of Cote d'Ivoire, Abidjan. This city became the capital of the French colony in 1934, and remained the economic capital after independence in 1960. The important districts are Plateau, Cocody (site of the National University of Cote d'Ivoire), Treichville, Adjame, Koumassi, and Marcory.
Today, Abidjan is the financial center of French-speaking West Africa. There are many wide, shady streets and plenty of gardened squares in the city; the university (built in 1958) lies on the eastern mainland.
Huge, glitzy and crime ridden, Abidjan was an unimportant town until 1951, when the French finished the Vridi Canal connecting Abidjan’s lagoon with the ocean. This instantly gave the city an excellent harbour, and since then the population has skyrocketed to almost 3 million people, spread out over four peninsulas around the lagoon.
Known as the ‘Paris of West Africa’, Abidjan has a lot of French people but also attracts Africans from neighbouring countries, making it the region’s most cosmopolitan city. Many travellers see only the wealthy side, especially Le Plateau, the central, high-rise commercial area, and Cocody, the posh residential section where you’ll find the imperial Hotel Ivoire. The sections where ordinary people live, such as Treichville, Marcory and Adjam?, are far more interesting. Linked to Le Plateau by two major bridges, Treichville is where you’ll find most of the nightclubs.
Hotel Ivoire, West Africa’s most famous hotel, is the city’s number one attraction. It boasts everything from a swimming pool, ice-skating rink, bowling alley, cinema and casino to a major art shop in the basement. The city’s eye-catching, modern St Paul’s Cathedral, outdone only by another in the capital Yamoussoukro, is worth checking out for a trip up the tower. It was grandly designed by an Italian and consecrated by the Pope in 1985.
On the northwestern edge of town is the Parc du Banco, a rainforest reserve and a pleasant, cool place for a walk. Several hundred metres beyond the dirt road entrance is Africa’s largest outdoor launderette, an unforgettable spectacle where hundreds of fanicos (washermen) jam together in the middle of a stream to wash clothes. They’re there every day, frantically rubbing garments on huge stones held in place by old car tyres and then spreading the clothes over rocks and grass for half a kilometre, never getting them mixed up.
Bear in mind that since the late 1980s, Abidjan has had one of the worst reputations for crime in West Africa, and no part of town is considered safe enough to wander around alone after dark.