Edo - Settlements

There are several hundred villages dispersed throughout the Edo territory, varying in size from 30 inhabitants to more than 4,000. Larger villages are divided into quarters. Houses are generally constructed of mud and roofed with corrugated-iron sheets. Formerly, residences were scattered, but, with the construction of roads that started in the early part of the twentieth century, and especially with the establishment of Benin City as the state capital in 1963, villages have become increasingly aligned along the main roads. The farms are located away from the settlements.

Benin City, the capital of the traditional kingdom as well as of modern Edo State, is a large urban complex with a long history. Archaeological evidence indicates that there could have been a population concentration in that area as early as the end of the eleventh century. European visitors, beginning in the fifteenth century, found a vast palatial compound with countless courtyards, altars, halls, and passageways, all richly decorated with brass, ivory, and wooden sculpture. The king's section of the town, Ogbe—where the palace and the residences of palace chiefs, minor officials, and retainers were located—was divided by a broad street from Ore n'Okhua, where town chiefs and their retinues, minor title holders, and members of forty or fifty guilds resided, each in their own quarter. At the time of the British conquest in 1897, fires destroyed much of the traditional architecture. The city was subsequently rebuilt—to an extent along former lines. The new palace, however, is significantly smaller than the earlier one. In the area around the palace, houses are constructed of the traditional wattle and daub, but modern-style houses are favored in the other parts of the city. Migration is changing the balance between rural and urban populations. In precolonial times and through the early 1960s, most Edo lived in rural areas. Indeed, after the British conquest, Benin City suffered something of a decline. This situation changed when it became the capital of the newly created Midwest State in 1963. As a result, government establishments, urban residential areas, and commerce and industry started to develop. The military governments of 1967 to 1975 improved social services, established inter- and intracity transportation, and fostered education and health by constructing a university with a teaching hospital. The development of roads and markets throughout the region, as well as ports to the southeast of Benin City, made the capital an important node for trade. New residential and commercial areas have developed around the traditional core, some incorporating villages that used to be on the periphery of the city.

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