21 interesting facts about Benin

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The most interesting facts about Benin, from the “Venice of Africa” and reverence for snakes, to the largest intact eco-system in West Africa.

Several interesting facts about Benin stem from its history (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of Benin
Capital city: Porto-Novo
Population: 12,864,634
Area: 112,622 sq km
Major languages: French, Fon, Yoruba
Time zone: UTC+1 (West Africa Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Benin

1. Benin was formerly known as Dahomey, a powerful kingdom in western Africa that flourished during the 18th and 19th centuries.
– Source: Britannica

2. Dahomey means “on the belly of Dan.” Dan was a rival king on whose grave Dahomey’s royal compound was built.
– Source: Britannica

3. Benin’s southern coast used to be known as the Slave Coast, a departure point for slaves where for over 100 years, an average of 10,000 slaves a year were shipped to the Americas.
– Source: Lonely Planet


The Gate of No Return
The Gate of No Return (Shutterstock)

4. The Route des Esclaves (Route of Slaves) in Ouidah is a road leading from the original slave auction plaza down to the beach where over 12 million slaves were deported.
– Source: Lonely Planet

5. The route includes the Tree of Forgetfulness (where slaves were branded and forced to walk around the tree in circles), the Tree of Return where slaves frequently circled with the belief that their souls would return home after their death, and the Gate of No Return memorial.
– Source: Lonely Planet

6. The voodoo religion originated in Benin where National Voodoo Day is celebrated annually on 10th January.
– Source: BBC News

7. Followers of voodoo account for 11% of Benin’s population, according to figures from 2013.
– Source: The Guardian

Voodoo celebrations in Cotonou – one of the most interesting facts about Benin
Voodoo celebrations in Cotonou (Shutterstock)

8. The French became the colonial power in Dahomey towards the end of the 19th century. In 1946, Dahomey became an overseas territory of France and then in 1958, it became self-governing within the French Community.
– Source: Britannica


9. In 1960, Dahomey achieved complete independence and then in 1975, the country changed its name to the Republic of Benin.
– Source: Britannica

10. The current name, Benin, derives from the Bight of Benin – a bay lying off Africa’s west coast within the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. there is also a Benin City and Benin River in Nigeria.
– Source: Britannica, Britannica

11. In the early 1990s, Benin made history by becoming the first African country to transit from a dictatorship to democracy and one of the first African countries to hold multi-party elections.
– Source: The Atlantic, Financial Times

12. Benin, along with Burkina Faso and Niger, is home to the largest intact eco-system in West Africa, the Pendjari National Park. The UNESCO-listed park also “harbours the only viable population of lions in the region.”
– Source: UNESCO, Lonely Planet

A lion in Pendjari National Park in Benin
A lion in Pendjari National Park (Shutterstock)

13. Benin only has one UNESCO site located solely in Benin, the Royal Palaces of Abomey. Built during the Kingdom of Dahomey from the 17th-century, the site consists of a set of ten palaces.
– Source: UNESCO


14. With a median age of just 17 years old, Benin has the 10th youngest population in the world. Almost 65% of the population is under 25 years old.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

15. Benin has a simple flag with horizontal stripes of yellow and red and a vertical green stripe. The yellow and green reflect the savannas of the north and the palm groves of the south, while the red references the blood of ancestors who defended the homeland.
– Source: Britannica

Flag of Benin
Flag of Benin (Shutterstock)

16. Although Porto-Novo is the capital city, the government sits in Cotonou, the country’s largest city, economic capital the country’s only seaport and international airport.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

17. Cotonou means “by the river of death” in the native Fon language and Porto-Novo means “new port” in Portuguese.
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

18. Snakes are revered in Benin and it is considered a sign of good fortune if a snake crosses one’s path.
– Source: Washington Post


19. Benin is home to the Temple of Pythons, a sacred shrine inspired by the legends of King Kpasse, that’s home to dozens of royal pythons that move freely within the temple’s grounds.
– Source: Washington Post

20. The village of Ganvie, located on Lake Nokoue in Benin, has been dubbed the “Venice of Africa” as it was built entirely on stilts.
– Source: Condé Nast Traveller

Houses on stilts in the "Venice of Africa"
The “Venice of Africa” (Shutterstock)

21. Angélique Kidjo, the Grammy-winning musician, is from Benin. Kidjo was also awarded Amnesty International’s top human rights award in 2016 for her activism work.
– Source: The Guardian


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