With a fine ceramic minaret, multicoloured walls and a great, carved wooden door, the Grand Mosque in Benin’s capital is a marvel of Afro-Brazilian architecture, yet like much in Porto-Novo it faces collapse.
“It looks just like a church in all ways because the former slaves were used to building churches in Brazil,” said Moubarak Mourchid, head of the city’s heritage agency.
“They converted to Islam as a show of rebellion against their masters and when they came back to west Africa, they became craftsmen who used the building techniques they had learned over there,” the historian told AFP.
“These skills were then transmitted from generation to generation.”
Yet unless urgent steps are taken, residents and local specialists say hundreds of these old buildings are at risk.
From the end of the 18th century, Porto-Novo on the Gulf of Guinea was one of the African ports that took in freed slaves who wanted to sail home to the continent of their ancestors.
The streets in what is now Benin’s second city and administrative capital call to mind the old Portuguese colonial settlement of Salvador de Bahia in Brazil.
And much of the architecture bears witness to key Afro-Brazilian links in African history, but not a single building, not even the mosque, has been classified as a UN World Heritage Site, Mourchid said.