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Page history last edited by Michael 2 years, 9 months ago

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     The city was founded in the 19th Century at the furthest upstream navigable point on the Congo, nearly in the middle of the African continent. It's located mostly on the north bank of the river; a smaller section of town is on the south bank (the rive Gauche), and there are dilapidated ruins of the original government station on a small island in the river.


     The population is about 23,000 persons, of which 1,200 are Europeans. A couple hundred Jews, Greeks, Chinese and Indians are present. The population of the city can swell to 6,000 on busy market days; many of the visitors are called "Arabs", but are actually from Zanzibar, or from Arabized African tribes. The languages most used by the natives are Lingala and Swahili; however, hundreds of tribal languages and dialects can be heard in the city. French is used by most Europeans, and for pretty much all business and governmental communication.


     Travel on foot through the woods with native guides and bearers, takes about three weeks from the coast to Stanleyville.


     Paddle-wheel steamers, some very large, travel up and down the river and its tributaries; the voyage to Leopoldville takes about a week on a paddle-wheel steamer. Ocean steamers almost never come this far up the Congo, due to some very shallow stretches downstream from here; the port for bigger ships is about 1,000 miles downstream. A few small car ferries cross the river here.


     The national railway, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer du Congo, has some lines leading out from the city; the distance along the rail line to Matadi (at the mouth of the Congo) is 260 miles. There are two classes, first (whites only, 500 francs, with small uncomfortable seats), and second (natives only, 50 francs, no seats at all in an open gondola, with a flimsy iron frame supporting a canvas roof). The scheduled passenger train usually consists of one first class carriage, one second class carriage, and a luggage gondola; there is no connection between the cars when the train is underway.The train makes a round trip every two days, every day of the week.


     There is also an airfield, Simi-Simi, built in 1931 a few miles outside of the city; Sabena uses Junkers Ju-52 aircraft for their routes from here (to Leopoldville and other 'internal' destinations). From Leopoldville, twice-weekly flights leave for (and arrive from) Brussels, via Kano and Tripoli (this service has just started). There is a seaplane ramp and service hangar along the river, also; until the airport was built at Simi-Simi, air service was provided by seaplanes.


     Sabena pilots earn 31,000 francs ($861) per year; mechanics earn 20,000 francs ($555) per year.


     A few miles upstream begins a long series of cataracts, the Stanley Falls (or to the Belgians, the chûtes Wagenia). A meter-gauge portage railway follows the river, bypassing the 60 miles of rapids and small waterfalls.


     Pedi-cabs and rickshaws are available for travel around the city. A very few automobile taxis are in service, mostly to connect hotels with the airport.


     The telephone system connects all the notable government and commercial buildings, the hotels, and many private homes; there are still only a couple thousand telephones total. Mail from Brussels takes 4-1/2 days to reach here. All of the substantial (European) buildings are fitted with electric lights.


     There is no separate police force or fire department; fire-fighting, military and law enforcement power is exercised by the Force Publique. Belgian officers and NCOs command the FP. There's a fairly large military camp (Camp Prince Charles) in the rive Gauche section of Stanleyville, with an FP battalion in residence. Besides their rifles, pistols, and whips, the local FP only have six Hotchkiss machineguns in their arsenal. Besides the military camp, the FP operates the large, fortress-like red brick Central Prison.


     Government buildings are usually two stories high, always built of stone or red brick. The provincial governor's palace is located here.


     There are two hospitals:  the Black Hospital, and the European Hospital; plus a number of small clinics operated by missionaries.


     There are a couple of banks; the local currency are colonial francs issued by the Banc du Congo Belge, and are equal in value to Belgian francs (36 to the dollar). Colonial francs are difficult to exchange outside of the Belgian Congo or Belgium. Two large open-air markets exist for daily food purchases, including lots of fish. Beer costs 3 francs per bottle. There are several notable hotels:


  • Hotel de Stanleyville:  1st class hotel. The choice of visiting dignitaries.

  • Guest House Sabena:  1st class hotel, near the airport. Very modern cottages, built in Art Deco style.

  • Hotel Sapec:  1st class hotel


1st class hotels have suites of at least 250 square feet, or separate cottages; telephones, radio, private bathrooms; 24 hour reception and room service, one or more bars or nightclubs, and an a la carte restaurant; baggage, parking and taxi service; and a concierge to handle travel and entertainment booking. Cost per person per night, 50 to 100 francs.


  • Hotel Rotonde:  2nd class hotel


2nd class hotels provide a telephone, writing table and armchair in each room; private bath and toilet for each room. The hotel will have a night reception desk, breakfast service, and a bar. Cost per person per night, 30 francs.


  • Hotel Leopold III:  3rd class hotel. Bowling alley.


3rd class hotels provide a private bath and toilet for each room. There will be a lounge, and the hotel serves breakfast and lunch (probably on the veranda). Cost per person per night, 20 francs.


  • Hotel des Chutes:  4th class hotel, near the lowest cataracts. Large gardens.

  • Hotel Lennos:  4th class hotel


4th class hotels only provide private bath and toilets in 25% of their rooms. The hotel will have a lounge (usually as part of the lobby). Refreshments will be available during the day, and a "continental breakfast buffet" in the morning. Cost per person per night, 15 francs.


     And of course in addition to the above, there are any number of rougher accomodations available, including hostels run by various church groups; all costing 5 francs per night or so. Nice cottages with spacious gardens can be rented by the week, for about 200 francs, including a staff of about 5 "house boys".


     The provincial economy depends on large plantations of coffee, bananas, rubber trees, casava, rice, cocoa, palm nuts and various tropical fruits. Many of the plantations and "factories" still have iron rings embedded in the walls, remnants of when slave labor was widely used. Slavery was mostly ended in 1908, when Belgium took over control of the Congo from King Leopold. Elephant ivory used to be an important export.


     Private homes for Europeans are often built of stone, one or two stories, with corrugated iron roofs. Almost every European residence will have verandas around all sides, and spacious gardens. Native inhabitants live in wooden houses with thatch roofs. Even the poorest European can afford 5 or 6 servants, almost always men from the native tribes.


     In December, average daytime high temperature is 86 degrees F; average low temperature is 61 degrees; dailey mean is 77 degrees. Average humidity is 86%; rainfall during December averages a bit over 3" total.



Comments (2)

Michael said

at 10:56 am on May 30, 2011

Oh, there was some mention of possibly ending up here after the last session, but cooler heads prevailed! Good to know what it's like, though!

Kirk said

at 10:46 am on May 30, 2011

Stanleyville? Something must be wrong with our compass .. how'd we end up here?

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