Filled to the brim with French colonial charm, Grand-Bassam is a town within the Lagunes region of Côte d’Ivoire. It was the capital city of the French colonies in the region from 1893 until 1896, until the administration was transferred to Bingerville after a severe bout of yellow fever. The city’s inhabitants recovered, and it remained a key seaport until the growth of Abidjan from the 1930s, which crushed its golden era. By independence in 1960, Grand-Bassam was little more than a ghost town, until a surge of tourism in the 1970s led to its resettlement. Today, a modest 5,000 people call the town their home, although some areas remain largely abandoned.
Grand-Bassam is 45km east of Abidjan and the trip will take about 45 minutes by road.
Bush taxis from the Gare de Bassam in Abidjan are the best option, and will cost about CFA 500. Buses are an alternative, which leave from Gare Routière d’Adjamé in Abidjan for CFA 500.
Grand-Bassam’s 1 gare routière (bus station) is in the centre of town, just beside the Place de Paix roundabout.
The town is largely divided into two distinct halves. On the south side of the Ébrié Lagoon is Ancien Bassam, the old French town where most of the colonial buildings and attractions are located. Nouveau Bassam lies to the north of the lagoon, and grew out of the old servant quarters to become the main business centre. The two are connected by a small bridge.
The main area of town is quite compact, so walking is an easy way of getting around. If you feel like venturing further, you will need to organise a bush taxi.
- 1 Cathédrale du Sacré Cœur. Beautiful house of worship built by the French in 1910, renovated in 2004.
- 1 Centre Céramique, Rue Bouët. After tourism, ceramics and pottery are probably Grand-Bassam’s biggest industries. This is both a museum of Ivorian traditional ceramic and a exhibition hall for the works of local artisans.
- 1 Mairie de Grand-Bassam (Town Hall), Boulevard Gouverneur Angoulvant. Recently restored French colonial building.
- 1 Musée National du Costume (Costume Museum). Housed in the former French governor’s palace, this architectural gem with its large outer staircase is one of the main attractions in town. Its excellent collection of traditional costumes, masks, ornaments and ethnographic photographs provides a fascinating insight in the culture and history of Ivory Coast, both during and outside colonial times. The 4000 m² museum premises holds various publications, models of traditional houses and life-size dancing scenes. If your budget allows, consider hiring a guide for extra information. CFA 1000.
- 1 Old Post Office. An elegant building that has also been restored recently. No longer functions as a post office.
- 1 Palais de Justice (Law Courts). Constructed in 1910, it was used as a court until 1954. This building has not been as lucky as the other French colonial structures, and has reportedly decayed beyond repair.
- 1 Maison des Artistes. Unlike some other buildings in town, the name of this colorful building actually describes what it’s used for. In this “house of the artists” you can watch local sculptors and other artists working and see and buy their creations. (updated Apr 2015)