The Great wall of Benin: The biggest man-made earthwork in the world

The Benin Moat was built as a defensive fortification around the Benin City in the great kingdom during when the kingdom engaged in many wars.
Quick facts:
-The Benin walls consisted of combination of ramparts and moats
-The ramparts ranged in size from shallow traces to gigantic 20-m-high around Benin City
-It covered a border distance of 16,000km.
-It enclosed 6500km square of community land.
-Its construction is estimated to have started as early as 800AD.
-it was finally completed around 1460 AD.
-It provided a defensive barrier against invaders.
-Shortly after the wall and the ditch were completed, the Portuguese visited the Benin in 1472 AD
-At that time, it was considered the world’s largest manmade structure. European visitors travel notes described the Great wall of Benin e.g. Dapper 1668.
-The Guinness Book Records (1974) describes the walls of Benin as the world’s second largest man made structure after China’s Great Wall.
-In terms of length, and the series of earthen ramparts as the most extensive earthwork in the work.

-Fred Pearce wrote in New Scientist:
They extend for some 16000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6500 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. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet.

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Considered one of the great wonders of the world, the walls were built of a ditch and dike structure. The ditch was dug to form an inner moat and excavated earth from this was used to construct the external rampart. Its construction method predates the use of modern earth-moving equipment or technology.

Queen Nzinga, a no nonsense Queen

Oba Oguola (1280-1295) completed the 1st and the second moats. During the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great in the 15th century (1440-1473) an extension of the moat which was about 3200km was constructed. This fortified bastion allowed entry to the city from nine gates to be controlled. At night the gates were locked.

As lines of defence, the moats were heavily guarded around the clock. They stopped invaders as they could be seen whilst trying to get through and were killed or captured by the Benin soldiers guarding the gates and walls.

At one time, the city of Timbuktu was five times bigger than the city of London

The high walls made it difficult for attackers and invaders to climb over.

The people of Benin, their security was very assured as summarised by the Portuguese ship captain Lorenzo Pinto, visiting in 1674,”Great Benin, where the King resides, is larger than Lisbon; all the streets run straight as far as the eye can see. The houses are large, especially that of King, which is richly decorated and has fine columns. The city is wealthy and industrious. It is so well organised that theft is unknown and people live in such security that they have no doors to their houses.”

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Benin City’s planning and design was done according to a very careful rules of symmetry, proportionality and repetition now known as fractal design.

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“These works from Benin are equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique,” wrote Professor Felix Luschan on Benin Beautiful West African Arts.

Did you know: the walls kept out Europeans slavers who were in search of slaves to transport to the Caribbean and the Americas on their slave ships across the Atlantic Ocean.

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