The seven wonders of the world in 2022 came out and they included the Taj Mahal, The Great Wall of China, The Christ the Redeemer Statue, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, The Roman Colosseum and Petra with the original being the Great Pyramids of Giza. The list was initially compiled in the second century BCE by Antipater of Sidon who was an ancient Greek writer and poet. In 2000 a Swiss foundation called 7 Wonders launched a campaign to determine the New Seven Wonders of the World from a selection of 200 existing monuments.

The Great Wall of China was chosen amongst the wonders and it consistently makes it onto this prestigious list. The wall is one of the world’s largest building-construction projects and is widely thought to be about 5 500 miles (8 850 km) long.  However, the wall was rivalled by the overlooked Walls of Benin, which were Four Times Longer Than The Great Wall of China. The walls are located in Benin City, a city situated in the southwestern part of Nigeria and they are a series of earthworks made up of banks and ditches. The walls were once a rival for the Great walls of China, during its glory days, ahead of their time and an enigma that left westerners baffled.

The Walls of Benin in a drawing from the 19th century. (Nigerian Embassy)
The Walls of Benin in a drawing from the 19th century. Image courtesy of Nigerian Embassy.

The walls were constructed between 800-1400 AD and when completed they have considered the world's largest earthworks carried out before the mechanical era. The walls were originally built to enclose the royal precinct of the King or “Oba” from the surrounding area. They were significant and on top of being artwork were constructed to play various roles such as protecting the people in the village from outsiders.

The walls are a testament to the development of urbanization and the upswing of state societies in Sub-Saharan Africa, a period of growth that lasted from the 7th century to the 14th century. The Edo people of Benin have always been revered as trailblazers and skilled workers who were also noted to have created magnificent bronze sculptures, ivory and wood carvings amongst others from as early as the 7th century. Their creations were so spectacular that they were looted mainly by the British and even after lots of resistance, they are still displayed in museums across Europe and America.

View along a street in the royal quarter of Benin City, from 1897.
View along a street in the royal quarter of Benin City in 1897. Photo by The British Museum/Trustees of the British Museum. Image courtesy of The Guardian.

View along a street in the royal quarter of Benin City in 1897. Image courtesy of The significance of these walls has been watered down over the last centuries. Like many other artworks, inventions or edifices that were built in Africa, their significance is overlooked or deemed inferior to their counterparts in the west. This phenomenon has led to numerous people in the west claiming to invent things that were invented in Africa.

Africa’s discoveries and innovations have received relatively little attention, recognition and celebration as compared to other regions of the world, even though most of them were ‘inspired’ by African inventions. Black people across the world have been oppressed and treated as inferior their works were often taken credit for by their white masters.

Walls of Benin. Image courtesy of This Is Africa.

Initially, as stated by Ron Eglash “when Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture very disorganized and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that the Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they hadn’t even discovered yet.” Europeans and other people in the west often feel the need to categorize things into their labels and anything else outside their realm of comprehension is treated as lesser. It may be done consciously or unconsciously; however, its effects are detrimental to African knowledge, artworks and overall development.

Benin bronzes. Image courtesy of Historic Mysteries.

The walls were first discovered by Portuguese explorers and they were unfortunately destroyed by the British in 1897 during what has become known as the Benin Expedition. During the expedition, the Benin bronzes and other artifacts were looted and taken back to Europe. These horrendous actions that were committed by colonial masters resulted in Africans losing their history as well as the distortion of African cultures.

Fact about the Benin Massacre and Expenditure of 1897 | by Arugba Stanley |  The Rabbit Is In
Benin massacre and expenditure of 1897. Image courtesy of The Rabbit Is In.

What was once a majestic and revered structure has in recent times it has become scattered pieces of the structure that remain in Edo, with the vast majority of them being used by the locals for building purposes. What remains of the wall itself continues to be torn down for real estate developments. This abomination of African history should be restored to its former glory, this will not only restore pride to the people in Benin but, will also create job opportunities for local people through tourism. The restoration of the walls falls in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Sustainable Cities and Communities, as it reinforces the importance of safeguarding the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

The walls were not just a wall, but it was used as armour against enemies, mathematical usages and so forth. Its significance should be celebrated and never forgotten. The wall needs to be acknowledged and advocated to be put in as one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. This magnificent structure needs to be on the same level as the Great Wall of China and once it is restored, it will be an illustration of Africa's significant contribution to the world’s advancement.

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