The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (known locally as Basilique de Notre Dame de la Paix) was built in the small city of Yamoussoukro (Yakro) the home town of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, a former president of the Ivory Coast. It looks just like St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but it's actually even bigger. Many of Africa's leaders in the 1970's and 1980's were prone to using their countries' meager resources to build some outrageous buildings that were not exactly suited to the climate, but which very much suited their egos.
Interesting Facts About the Basilica
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is modeled after the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, but larger, making it the biggest church in the world. It was constructed between 1985 and 1989 at a cost of $300 million (doubling the country's national debt). It is constructed entirely of marble (30 acres) imported from Italy and decorated with 23,000 square feet (7,000 m2) of contemporary stained glass from France.
Felix Houphouet-Boigny features prominently in a stained glass window scene of Jesus and the Apostles inside the basilica. Pope John Paul came to consecrate the church on the basis that a hospital would be built nearby; it never was.
Does It Get Any Use?
18,000 people can worship in the basilica (7,000 seated, 11,000 standing) but it is rarely even close to full. This could have something to do with the fact that it is situated in the middle of the bush near a town of about 120,000 very poor people, most of whom are not Catholics.
A papal villa built exclusively for papal visits has stood empty since the basilica's initial consecration.
Peace Corps volunteers and the occasional tourist to the Ivory Coast enjoy going to see the basilica because it is a remarkably beautiful building. Local people are also rather proud of it.
Visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace
You can catch a local flight to Yamoussoukro and land at the airport built to accommodate the Concorde (President Felix Houphouet-Boigny didn't like to skimp on his pet projects). There are also plenty of buses that pass through since Yamoussoukro is a transport hub. You can catch a bus from Abidjan, Man or Bouake. You can also catch regional buses and travel to Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali from here.
The best hotel in the area is the Hotel President.
For more travel information see Lonely Planet's West Africa Guide.