Yesterday, we took a little trip to Cathédrale Saint Paul in Plateau, Abidjan’s city centre. During the week, the area around St. Paul’s bustles with traffic, pedestrians and its fair share of touts, marketing everything from mobile phones to parking spaces. On Saturday afternoon, however, Plateau returns to its natural state–leafy and calm, which makes it the ideal time for a family visit.
I am not a big fan of church tourism. So, I didn’t know quite what to expect when we embarked on this little excursion. My five-year-old went on strike and practically refused to go because “church is boring”. However, St. Paul’s Cathedral turned out to be a pleasant surprise for everyone.
St. Paul’s Cathedral was designed by Italian architect, Aldo Spirito, who was selected by Côte d’Ivoire’s first President, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, to be the artistic force behind his ambitious project–to build a world-class cathedral in Côte d’Ivoire’s commercial capital. The Cathedral, whose construction began in 1980, has become a landmark on the city skyline, the broad sweeps of its ultra-modern crucifix design dominate the city skyline. It also has the unique honor of having been blessed twice by Pope John Paul II (once in 1980 and again in 1985).
While the church has suffered some wear and tear as a result of 2011’s post-electoral conflict, its stunning, panoramic stained-glass windows are intact. The church also boasts a set of beautiful, modern mosaics depicting the Catholic Stations of the Cross. These artworks alone, make St. Paul’s a must-see on any trip to Abidjan. They are unique in their integration of African people, landscapes and lifestyles with the biblical stories all Christians know and love.
However, the pièce de resistance (particularly for the younger set) is the 230 step climb to the balconies on the outstretched “arms” of the crucifix. These balconies afford unique, panoramic views of the city and its lagoons. My children (aged 5, 9, 12, and 14) all loved the climb up, and were begging for more. So, it must have been just the “right” amount of exercise.
A visit to St. Paul’s takes about 30-45 minutes, making it a perfect “escape” for business travelers within the city center. However, it’s also a great spot for families. The art and the climb are engaging for members of any faith and kids of all ages.
Costs: Admission to the Cathedral is free. However, unofficial guides will offer to escort you on the climb. A guide is totally unnecessary, but inexpensive, and he’ll take photos of your entourage for you.
Recommendations: If it’s a hot day, bring water for the hike up the cross, and don’t wear high heels, as the stairs are narrow and steep.
Address: Blvd Angoulvant, Plateau, Abidjan