The Genius of our ancient Yoruba Architects

Post 45 of 232


I stood upon a hilltop in Idanre land, 900m above the surrounding plains. Before me sat the ancient Oba’s Palace, surrounded by thickets of verdant forests, outshoots of granite rocks and relics of the ageless Oke-Idanre village. The mud buildings stand bold and strong, through centuries they endured countless downpours of fearsome rains and inestimable volumes of raging solar heat. Bold, sturdy and resilient they stood, radiating their timeless beauty and charm through well structured layouts, carefully crafted columns, windows and doors, bearing the artistic patterns and imprints of the ancient African art. Old Oke-Idanre is a relic ancient settlement, located up on the gigantic hills of Idanre  area, in Ondo State, southwestern Nigeria.

Almost all the houses had courtyards, while the finer and stronger looking structures had more than one courtyard e.g The ancient Oba’s Palace. Each of the courtyards is surrounded by rooms which open into the courtyard. Since the Yoruba culture permitted polygamy, it was necessary for a wealthy man to have more than one courtyard in his house back in those days, so that each wife had a courtyard to herself and her children. In a king’s palace, some courtyards are also built specially for religious purposes as seen at the ancient Oba’s Palace in Akure.

Also, it is quite interesting to note that ancient builders in Yoruba land had a good knowledge of roofing structures. The buildings at Old Oke-Idanre has varying roof types, ranging from heap roof types, to gable roof and lean-to roof types. Some of the well built houses in the village has thick and sturdy columns supporting the roof at the front of the houses, while others has simple wooden poles as pillars. At the Oba’s Palace, the roofs are supported by creatively and artistically carved human figures.

Some of the buildings has slanting outer walls supported by protruding triangular buttresses, but upright in the interiors. Where the foundations are exposed, it can be seen that they are made of an intricate mixture of clay and granite slabs. In front of most of the buildings, the foundations projected outwards and could have probably served as sitting platforms outside the house where the people could sit on when eating, playing board games such as Ayò-Olópón etc. In addition, the characteristic low roofs of the buildings could have provided shade for the projected sitting platforms.

It is also possible to decipher the status of the owner of some of the houses; for example a houses suspected to belong to a wealthy man appears larger than most of the other houses in the village and the design is unique and beautiful. The edges of its columns are also well defined, unlike most houses whose columns were made of single poles of raw or sawn wood.

The ancient magistrate court shows a simple design and a little ‘formal’ character, as its columns were made of mud, but strong and well defined, unlike the columns of the Oba’s Palace which were composed of wood pillars carved into different figures, giving an aura of cultural significance. The witness box in the court room is made entirely of mud.

Furthermore, there is noticeable and detailed artistic beautification of the window boards, frames and roof boards on some of the buildings, especially at the Oba’s Palace.

Nevertheless, as advanced as architecture is in our world today, there may be countless lessons and ideas to pick from these structures.


– Pictures showing the aerial view of the ancient Oba’s Palace with its many courtyards and gable roofs.

idanreOldObaspalace_naijatreks6 – Dormer window type at the upper roof of the Oba’s Palace. Also notice the beautifully carved human figures, serving as columns and supports for the roofs of the palace.


Notice the carved roof boards and beautifully made windows.



Mud benches on the corridors of the ancient obas palace Idanre_Naijatreks-  Raised mud platforms on the corridors of the ancient palace, probably for sitting or  offering sacrifices.

Idanre old Magistrate court_Naijatreks

– The ancient magistrate court at Old Oke-Idanre. The structure shows a simple design and a little ‘formal’ character, as its columns were made of mud, but strong and well defined, unlike the columns of the Oba’s Palace which were composed of wood pillars carved into different figures, giving an aura of cultural significance.

Idanre magistrate court_Naijatreks – The witness box in the court room is made entirely of mud.



– Notice the lean-to roof at the centre of the picture.


– Buttresses on the outer walls of some of the houses in the village.


– Stone-paved pathway leading into the Oba’s Palace. Its loose joints allow for easy flow of rain water down the pathway.



idanreOldObaspalace_naijatreks8 – Foundation of stone and clay cement; Wood covered door way and small stone-paved drainage outlet.


– Sturdy columns supporting the roof at the front of one of the houses in the village. Notice the small courtyard at the side of the house.



– Stone walls, heap roof and projected foundation as sitting area at the front of the house. This house appears to belong to a wealthy man as the house is large and the design is unique and beautiful. The edges of the columns are also well defined.

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This article was written by Folarin Kolawole

Founder of Naijatreks, Nigerian-born Folarin Kolawole is a geologist, travel writer and researcher. When not at work, he travels the length and breadth of Nigeria, exploring, taking photos and writing about her numerous hidden tourist potentials.   'Naijatreks' is a product name registered under the Ntreks brand, which is also duly registered by Nigeria's Federal Corporate Affairs Commission. The contents on this blog are re-usable. However, it must be ensured that it is linked back to this blog, and correctly attributed to Naijatreks or the author. Please do not edit, rewrite or commercialize the original works on this blog without direct and written permission from the Founder (Folarin Kolawole). For inquiries and advert placement on the blog, kindly contact us at info@naijatreks.com or naijatreks@gmail.com.


eleshin@elemieshin.com' EleshinMarch 12, 2014 at 10:18 amReply

I really enjoyed this piece, especially your photos of the different architectural details like the roofing and windows. Wonderful place! I wish they would invest in replacing the roofs (which are obviously not the original ones) and maybe organizing tours for people like me who might want to visit.

NaijatreksMarch 12, 2014 at 11:51 amReply

@Eleshin…Thank you, thank you, thank you… since the ancient town is now a United Nations Heritage site, am sure there are plans to further protect and preserve the relics. About a trip to Idanre Hills, please sign up for our mail notification (top right side bar) so that we can notify you of our upcoming tours. please do visit again.

umaryann@hotmail.com' adaMarch 21, 2014 at 1:01 pmReply

Lovely pictures, when i went to idanre i didn’t really take the time to look around i was still freaked out about climbing the hill. Also did u climb to the highest top of the hill?

NaijatreksMarch 21, 2014 at 2:15 pmReply

@Ada…thank you, thank you, thank you! hahaha…why were you soo scared naa? Climb to the highest peak of Idanre Hills? No oooo! That’s for mountain climbers loll… The highest I’ve reached is this Old Oke Idanre. Thanks for the comment.

okupe1@netzero.com' OLUJune 23, 2014 at 3:23 amReply


NaijatreksJune 23, 2014 at 3:58 pmReply

@ Olu… thanks for the prayer 🙂 Yes, we should do a story on the vernacular architecture of Akure’s ancient oba’s palace very soon. Meanwhile, you can check out our post on the ingenious underground drainage channels of the Akure Oba’s palace on http://www.naijatreks.com/2013/08/akurepalace

ifemakinde@gmail.com' IfeNovember 22, 2014 at 2:49 pmReply

Good, impressive, its really wonderful to see someone write about ancient Nigerian culture and architecture, check out my blog @ http://www.cureporter.blogspot.com

sikiru.kadiri@yahoo.com' kadiriNovember 23, 2015 at 1:02 amReply

I am really impressed by your write-ups and those beautiful pictures. I wish you the very best and I am proud of your accomplishments so far. I have also learnt so much from here. Kindly let me know whenever you are going on tour because I am very much interested.

NaijatreksNovember 23, 2015 at 5:02 pmReply

@Kadiri…thanks for your comment Kadiri. We have added your name to our tour notification mailing list now, so you should be informed when we announce our next trip.