Conservation image

The Getty Conservation Institute co-organized "Past, Present, and Future of the Royal Palaces and Sites of Abomey," an international conference in Abomey, Benin. The purpose of the conference, held September 22 through 26, 1997, was to discuss recent conservation work at the Royal Palaces of Abomey and to propose measures that can be taken locally and nationally to ensure the continued preservation of such sites for future generations. Attending were specialists from 11 countries—Benin, Cameroon, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo, France, Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States—experienced in dealing with the complex issues involved in the management of Africa's cultural heritage sites.

The GCI and the West African Republic of Benin's Department of Cultural Patrimony began working together in 1993 to conserve 50 seriously damaged bas-relief panels that once adorned the Salle des Bijoux (Hall of Jewels), now part of the Historic Museum at the Royal Palaces of Abomey. The reliefs are thought to be the oldest surviving elements of the Royal Palaces, a group of earthen structures built by the Fon people between the mid-17th and late 19th century. The project systematically documented and preserved the polychrome earthen panels, which depict battle scenes and allegorical symbols of the power of the kings of Dahomey. The project also provided local Benin staff with training in conservation, photographic documentation, and long-term care of the bas-reliefs.

The Benin conference marked the completion not only of the bas-relief conservation project but also of an architectural and museological project in Abomey of the Rome-based International Center for the Preservation of Cultural Property/ Prevention in Museums in Africa (known as ICCROM-PREMA) working with the International Center for Research of Earthen Architecture in the School of Architecture, Grenoble. A collaboration of the GCI, ICCROM, and the Ministry of Culture and Communication of Benin, Department of Cultural Patrimony, the conference addressed issues of site management useful to managers of sites similar to the Royal Palaces of Abomey in neighboring West African countries. Providing support to the conference were the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and UNESCO's World Heritage Center.