Sunday, February 20, 2011

Leopoldville 1956 - The Tourist Circuit (Ville)

The tour of the European city described in the brochure (see Feb. 6, 2011) also took two hours.  It followed a different itinerary (see map) from the 2005 TASOK Reunion tour (see Jan. 9, 2011), starting at Place de la Poste (old Post Office), via the Museum of Native Life (open from 9:00-12:00 and 14:00-15:30 daily), to the Brazzaville ferry landing (a 20 minute crossing), Ste. Anne’s Cathedral, Albert 1er Monument, the Gare and the Railway Pioneers Monument, then down the Boulevard past the new Post Office.  Although the taxi rates quoted are for April 1956, the map does not show a completed Boulevard (thus likely was a reprint of an earlier version), showing a jog from the Boulevard onto Ave. Valcke.
Place de la Poste circa 1956 - Old Post Office is at 10:00 position

At the end of Ave. Valcke was Leo II or “Old Leo” with the shipyards (Chanic), the old Semaphore, Stanley’s original station and at the top of Mount Leopold, offering a panoramic view of Stanley Pool (25 kilometers long at this point), a view of Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa and the Crystal Mountains on the horizon (as the description does not mention the Stanley Monument, completed in 1956, this would confirm the notion of an updated, reprinted brochure). From there, visitors could descend to the River, drive along the rapids around Mt. Leopold (380 meters) and back to downtown past Petit Pont, the Belvedere and the Raquette Promenade.

Musée de Vie Indigene  The Museum of Native Life was founded in 1936 by Jeanne Tombu, an accomplished painter and wife of District Commissioner Marcel Maquet.  It is unclear where the museum was initially located, but when Governor General Ryckmans visited in 1942, the collection already possessed 4700 artifacts.  In 1946 the Museum was housed in the former Stanley Hotel on the river at the corner of Aves. Hauzeur and Beernaert.  Curator Adrien VandenBossche organized an exhibition in Parc deBock in April that year.  In May 1953, when the new Post Office was completed on Boulevard Albert, the museum moved into the old Post Office at the Place de la Poste.
This building, designed by Gaston  Boghemans, and built between 1916-18, reflected contemporary Belgian architecture adapted to the tropical climate and capabilities of local building expertise. 

The Post Office shortly after completion

Exhibit in Salle Lusambo of the museum in the Old Post Office
Now under the direction of VandenBossche’s son Jean, a contemporary report observed that despite the building’s age and limited funds, VandenBossche had “succeeded to display the collections according to modern museum methods”.   However, there was interest in a more suitable facility, a campaign led by businessman and arts patron, Maurice Alhadeff ensued.  In 1959, the colonial government held an international design competition for a cultural center, which resulted in the “Cultrana” performance hall in Lingwala Commune, but not a permanent home for the museum.  In 1970, the old Post office was sold to the Banque de Bruxelles, which owned the adjacent property and the buildings demolished to make way for a 7 story office block.  That same year, the Institut des Musées Nationales du Congo was established and the collection moved to the Presidential complex on Mont Ngaliema.  The Museum was looted during Kabila’s overthrow of Mobutu in May 1997 and what remains of the collection is currently housed at the base of Mont Ngaliema, just above Chanic at the turnoff up the Matadi road leading to TASOK.
In 1971 the Banque de Bruxelles became the Union Zairoise des Banques

The FIMA "beach" in Leopoldville in the 1940s

Brazzaville Ferry Crossing  The twin cities of Leopoldville and Brazzaville faced each other across 4 kilometers of the Congo River.  Both were founded at the beginning of the 1880s and boat traffic between the two was a priority from the outset, especially as French Congo received all its imports through the Belgian Congo port of Matadi until the Congo-Ocean railway was completed in 1934.  In 1898, the year the railway arrived in Leopoldville from Matadi, the Ste. Congolia started a ferry service to Brazzaville. A decade later, “Congolia” was taken over by CITAS (Compagnie Industriel et de Transports au Stanley Pool), created by railway magnate Albert Thys’ holding company, CCCI.  In 1936, two Italians, Fioroli and Marconcelli, formed FIMA, which began providing ferry service to Brazzaville. When Governor General Ryckmans organized a parade in June 1940 to proclaim Congo’s adherence to the Allied side, the FIMA ferries brought “all Brazzaville” over to Leopoldville to participate.  But at the end of August when deGaulle’s agents were organizing a coup to oust the Vichy regime, the French authorities closed the ferry.  
A notable arrival at the ferry landing in December 1941, was the Pan American flying boat, “Clipper Capetown”, which moored offshore on its maiden flight from Miami.  After the war, ferry service between the two capitals continued to increase.  In June 1948, FIMA launched “Congolia II”, and in August 1955, “Nina 8”, a vehicle ferry was put in service. Following the mutinies of the Congolese army at Independence, the ferries were pressed into service to transport fleeing Europeans.  July 17, 1960, “Congolia 9” carried cars and other belongings over to the Brazzaville side.  
By June 1962, FIMA had 6 ferries operating, but needed a new landing.  With Leopoldville’s economy in dire straits, Brazzaville offered opportunities for day-trip shopping sprees.  From time to time spats between the two countries would close the ferry.  During the second “pillage” in 1993 and at the end of the Mobutu era, the ferries once again carried people across to Brazzaville. "In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz" (2001), Michaela Wrong describes how disabled Kinois use a loophole in the ferry ticketing structure to earn a living transporting goods from Brazzaville. 

Ste. Anne Parish
Ste. Anne Church in the 1920s - note rail lines on future Boulevard (L) and football fields at site of future US Embassy (R)
Ste. Anne parish was established in 1903 as a small outpost, served by Congolese catechists, of the Catholic St. Leopold mission parish in Kintambo (See Jan. 9, 2011).  In 1912 Msgr. Van Ronsle directed Father Remi Calon to build a cathedral south of the railway station, and in June Father Reygaerts began construction. Father Calon laid the cornerstone the following year.  On October 16, 1915 the first mass was held in the unfinished structure, an event no doubt influenced by the recent inauguration of the British Baptist church on nearby Ave. VanGele.  The brick church was completed in 1917, the year Father Raphael de la Kethulle arrived and began developing schooling for Congolese and promoting football associations throughout the city (See.Feb. 6, 2011).
Prince Leopold, future King Leopold III, and Princess Astrid visited Leopoldville in 1925.
He was the first to describe the European residents as "Kinois"
Father Raphael started St. Joseph school at Ste. Anne in 1923.  Among his teachers was the father of 1960s musician Kabasele, who moved to Leopoldville from Boma to take up his post.  Throughout the colonial period, the church was the principal Catholic Church in the city, even after construction of Notre Dame du Congo in the cité in 1947.  In 1965, Father J. Smets remodeled the cathedral, raising the steeple, though inexplicably using a lighter shade of brick.  When Cardinal Malula was ordained in 1972, Notre Dame became the Cathedral of the city.  During 2005 observations of the parish centennial, Abbé Jose Moke appealed for $250,000 funding to replace the roof.

Albert I Monument.
 After King Albert’s death in 1934, a campaign to commemorate the popular sovereign was launched in Congo and Belgium.  February 25, 1936, a 50 centime surtax was imposed on Fr.1.5 and Fr.2.5 Congo stamps to raise funds to erect a monument in his honor. The monument, to be built on the site of a cabaret where locals could buy German beer at Fr.2 the bottle, was designed by Rene Schoentjes, the architect of the adjacent railway station and built by Dias deMoura, a local entrepreneur.  Belgian sculptor Victor Demanet crafted the statue of Albert in a tropical uniform and local sculptor Corneille DeKock designed the attendant sculptures.  The monument was inaugurated June 30, 1939 with the statue of the King on a pedestal framed by two art deco columns in local stone flanked by bas-reliefs depicting Albert and Queen Elisabeth’s personal interests for the colony, agriculture and health.

During the mercenary rebellion led by Jacques Schramme in Bukavu in 1967, Albert’s statue was pulled down, but the rusticated stone pedestal and columns remained.  It was suspected that Mobutu wanted to put up a statue to himself, but competing claims for founding fathers Kasa Vubu and Lumumba to have the honor may have dissuaded him.  In December 1997, sculptor Mbuyu proposed erecting a statue to Lumumba.  Briefly in 2005, Leopold’s equestrian statue was mounted on the pediment.  In 2010 the Place de la Gare incorporated the pedestal and columns without any statuary and a monument to President Kasavubu was unveiled at Place Kimpwanza in Commune Kasavubu.  In 2001, a monument to Lumumba was erected on Boulevard Lumumba just before the Echangeur de Limete.

Albert I Monument from behind and Place de la Gare in foreground

Gare Centrale and Monument to the Railway Pioneers  As noted in the Jan. 23, 2011 posting, a  new railway station was approved during the Depression and built during WWII, but was not really inaugurated until 1948 – the fiftieth anniversary of the railroad.  During the commemoration ceremonies in July 1948, a monument to the railway pioneers, designed by Arthur Dupagne, was unveiled.  The bas-relief was removed in 1971.

The 8 panels below the bas-relief record the names of 132 Europeans who died during construction of the railroad. 
During the development of the 10 Year Plan in 1949, it was proposed to move the railway yards to Lemba, which would have resulted in a simple passenger station without switching yards at the end of the Boulevard.  In the 1980s, the space in front of the Gare (behind the Albert Monument) was developed as a public transport terminus and the Ivory Market, now called Marche Bikeko, located between the bus and railway stations. During the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2010, both market and commuter terminus gave way to the Place de la Gare.

Boulevard Albert and new Poste  As noted in prior posts, the new Post Office was built on the site of the former city market.  The new structure, designed by A. Verschuere, who also designed buildings for the transport parastal, OTRACO, began construction in 1951.  The modern facility offered all conveniences and services, but in February 1957, the City Council urged that the Poste remain open during Leopoldville’s two hour lunch break so that those who worked downtown could use its facilities.  After Independence, this became the headquarters of the Ministry of Postes and Telecomunications.  Until the advent of mobile phones in the late '90s, all international calls out of the country had to be booked at the Grande Poste.

Chanic Shipyards and Semaphore 
Leopoldville port - The Semaphore with the Douanes Building behind (L)
The Chanic shipyards developed from the former Marine du Haut Congo, a key institution of Leopold’s Congo Free State.  This was the original port of Leopoldville and included slipways where steamers built in pieces in Europe were assembled for service on the upper Congo.  When the port was transferred upstream to Kinshasa in 1927, a private company, Chanic, took over the facilities. A crenelated structure incorporating a flagpole and semaphore remained on the site, but was relocated above the shipyards to a roundabout and road leading up to the Provincial Administration.  In 1967, when Mobutu began to develop the Presidential gardens on Mt. Ngaliema, the monument was taken down.

Stanley's Station  Henry Morton Stanley arrived at the Pool and established his post just above the rapids in August 1880. He cleared a terrace above the river and built his original station.  He then left the station in Lt. Braconnier’s hands, but when he returned in 1883 found the station in ruins.  He ordered expansion of the terrace.   By 1906, the slopes of Mt. Stanley were largely built out with offices and housing of the Provincial Administration.  These developments coincided with plans to develop the capital upriver at Kinshasa.   

In 1898, a Monument de Liberte was erected at Place Stanley, but was removed in 1956.  In 1962, this site became the Public Works Institute (INBTP) with support from Unesco.  The Italian Air Force mission, that was training the Congolese Air Force, occupied the buildings on the terrace.  After Kabila’s take over, the Terrace became the National Museum.

Institut National du Batiment et Travaux Publiques - built 1962 by Safricas

Stanley Monument and view of the city  The peak of Mt. Ngaliema commands a remarkable panorama of Kinshasa, Brazzaville, the Kinsuka rapids and the Pool itself.  The first occupants of the summit were British Baptist missionaries (BMS) who founded “Arthington” station in July 1882 on land provided by Lt. Braconnier.  However, “Arthington” burned down in 1886 in a runaway grass fire and the BMS moved to its current location at Kinshasa the following year.  In 1897, the Red Cross established a hospital near the summit (now housing Ngaliema Commune) and soon after a cemetery was established.  By 1910, 140 hectares of the hill and riverfront had been developed.  But limitations of the port and lack of space around the hill led to the expansion of Kinshasa. On the plateau along the Caravan Route, a residential development called Cent Maisons was developed.

In 1950, looking ahead to the 50th anniversary of Stanley’s death in 1904, a monument to the explorer and founder of Leopoldville was proposed.  The following year, Maurice Heymans was chosen as architect and Arthur Dupagne (railway monument at the Gare) selected to sculpt the statue of Stanley. Romanian-born Belgian artist Idel Ianchelevichi was commissioned to prepare three statues of Congolese representing three pillars of Congolese economic life - the Shepherd, Hunter, Fisher.  The monument was inaugurated July 21, 1956, Belgian National Day.

Provincial Administration later Ministry of Defense
In 1958, a new office building housing the Provincial Administration was erected just behind Stanley Monument.  Following the riots in January 1959, the Belgian Second Commando Battalion was dispatched to the colony and based (new) Camp Stanley.  With Independence approaching, the nearly completed Governor General’s residence in Kalina was chosen for the new Parliament Building and a residence for the President was built on Mt. Ngaliema. After his first coup in September 1960, Mobutu moved into Cent Maisons, which became known as Camp Tshatshi.  The Provincial Headquarters became the Ministry of Defense.
The main hall of the OAU Complex in the late 1960s

"Le Bouclier de la Revolution"
Mobutu began to develop the Presidential Gardens on Mt. Ngaliema in 1967, as well as the Cite OUA, when the annual conference was hosted by Congo in that year.  Increasing security around the Presidential compound and military installations led to restrictions on accessing Stanley Monument.  In 1971, Stanley Monument was taken down and Sculptor Liyolo commissioned to create the “Bouclier de la Revolution”.  At the same time, the Congolese authorities, apparently recognizing Ianchelevici's unpatronizing sculptures, left them in place on the monument concourse.  Mobutu’s residence was looted in 1997 and Kabila senior moved into the Government Guest House in Binza, where he was assassinated by a bodyguard January 16, 2001.

The bridge to Ile Mimosa and the rock quarry

Mont  Leopold & Kinsuka rapids
The drive around the base of Mount Leopold passed Kinsuka rapids and a quarry on an island in the rapids developed by Trenteseaux who built the Forescom Building.  Closer to Chanic was the Hopital de la Rive, which had become a leprosarium. The tourism brochure mentions the Belvedere in connection with Petit Pont restaurant and La Raquette, but the Belvedere was part of Mt. Leopold with a view of the rapids.  The shell of a restaurant could still be seen from Kinsuka road in the 2000s.

Galiema Restaurant

La Raquette, also called the Corniche, was a road that followed the river from Kalina and curved around at Ngaliema Bay to descend to Petit Pont and the road to Leo-Ouest. It commanded a view of the bay and Mt. Leopold and the rapids beyond.  The area developed as an upscale residential district in the 1940s.  A fine restaurant called Galiema perched on the point and it was here that the Rotary Club was founded in 1955.  After 1991, it became the Forces Armees Zairoise Officer’s Mess.  It is now President Kabila’s residence.

Mt. Ngaliema viewed from the Corniche


  1. You should read The Beggars' Pursuit and The Gospel of Thomas to get a good sense of old Kinshasa.

  2. We lived there in the 1950s. What a difference.