You can see the best of Brazzaville in a day. The city is walkable as long as you’re prepared for the heat. Life outside my hotel room seemed to start at about five in the morning and there’s a sense to that so I’d suggest making an early start.
My plan has been to get out about 8.30am to 9.00am and put in a couple of hours touring returning to the hotel for about 11.00am and recuperating in the last of the shadow on my balcony.
In no particular order, the places I’d suggest popping to see; the Basilique Sainte Anne du Congo, the Memorial Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, the Pont du 15 Août 1960.
Basilique Sainte Anne du Congo is the largest and most attractive church I’ve found here. It’s construction is brick, built into tall, thick arches that come to a point at the top. This shape is echoed throughout including door frames that surround brass doors with religious images cast into squares, a little like a page from some religious comic — published by JC instead of DC perhaps. The roof is finished with lovely green ceramic tiles that reflect and glisten in the sunlight. As you approach from a distance you can be forgiven for thinking the roof is under repair as the colour is reminiscent of the netting you often see around scaffolding but close up it’s quite impressive.
As I entered the Savorgnan Memorial I was greeted by two cheerful chaps who took my passport for safe-keeping during my visit and, I think, tried to sell me small plastic bags of yogurt or fruit juice. After a quick wander through the not unattractive gardens I entered the circular building. At this level there’s some basic but informative presentation boards consisting of black and white photos with captions in both French and English as well as a reconstruction of a grass hut that contained various items linked to the tale of the great man himself. In the middle of this large circular space is a marble staircase that descends to the tomb of de Brazza and some other family members. Once outside there’s a large statue of the man looking all ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, and strangely proportioned in his bedsheet clothing.
So who was Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza? Firstly, the city of Brazzaville was founded by and named after him. There’s some conflicting information about this to be precise. Some suggest that the city was named after the Italian town of Brazza which is where Pierre came from. Secondly, although Italian by birth, he represented the French government in the unusually peaceful colonisation of the region back in the late 1800s. Other than the peaceful bit – which I guess was quite a big deal back in the day – I’m not that sure as to why he’s so revered by the locals.
The Pont du 15 Août 1960 is less than a year old. It has two large h-shaped towers from which cables are suspended to carry the road. Every cable has circular lighting units spaced every metre or so from top to bottom. This is the clever bit as the system allows for elaborate light shows that bring the nighttime skyline to life. What I don’t understand is the purpose of the bridge. It doesn’t cross a large river, in fact it runs parallel to one, the Congo. It’s not a superhighway to anywhere as there’s nothing at the other end and it doesn’t solve a particular traffic problem as there’s a decent dual carriageway ten seconds up the road, incidentally, that most of the vehicles tend to use even now. To be fair you could say this is sensible urban planning, anticipating and solving a problem before it happens or the plan is so grand that you can’t see it this close up. Others more knowledgeable of the region than me might shrug their shoulders and say ‘that’s Africa’.
You’ve probably guessed that the bridge is named after an important date of Congolese history and you’d be right. It’s the day of their independence from France. Watch out here comes an interesting fact! Did you know that during World War II Brazzaville was the Free French capital while Paris was occupied by the Nazis?
The one place that I haven’t found yet is somewhere in the shade that you can plonk yourself down and watch the day go by. I tried to find somewhere beside the river but the only spot with shade meant sitting on the floor and the only spot with seating had a wall behind so that you had to face the road. I tried the park which had some seats under cover of the trees but there was nothing to be entertained by other than a row of busts that paid tribute to random African presidents, Mohammed Ali and Bob Marley amongst others. My ankles were also bitten which didn’t aid relaxation.