The administrative capital of the Southern Province, Nyanza is the eighth largest city in Rwanda. The main attraction of the region lies in its cultural heritage, which undoubtedly merits a stopover en route to Nyungwe National Park.
Well worth a visit is the King’s Palace, a reconstruction of the traditional royal residence, a beautifully-crafted thatched dwelling shaped like a beehive. At the back live a few long-horned Ankole cattle, descended from the king’s herd, whose keepers carefully tend and sing to them.
In the olden days, Rwandan kings were very mobile, moving between numerous residences scattered throughout the kingdom. However, by the late 19th century the growing colonial presence risked undermining the authority of the crown. In an attempt to counteract this, Mwami (King) Musinga Yuhi V made Nyanza the first permanent royal capital of Rwanda in 1899 and it kept this status until the country became a republic in 1962.
The royal court impressed the Belgians sufficiently that they chose to exert control through the existing power structure and largely refrained from intruding on the city. Western accounts full of colour, pomp and ceremony blend with Rwandan oral tradition to put Nyanza firmly on the map of cultural heritage.
Whilst Nyanza’s hillsides are no longer covered in roundhouses and the royal court is long dispersed, the region remains an important cultural centre. Other attractions include the Ethnographic Museum in nearby Huye.