The territory was later incorporated into French West Africa until it was granted independence in August 1960. The leadership of the country was taken over by Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a quirkily effective politician who dominated the country's political life for the next 30 years. Houphouët-Boigny retained close links with the West - especially France, but also apartheid South Africa.
During his time in office, the Ivory Coast was renowned as the most prosperous and most stable country in the West African region. It also hosted the largest French community in francophone Africa. His rule was shaken by economic recession in the 1980s, when commodity prices of the main exports, cocoa and coffee, plunged. Domestic pressure for democratisation produced further stresses.
The first multi-party elections since independence were held in 1990 which Houphouët-Boigny easily won against veteran opposition leader Laurent Gbagbo. Houphouët-Boigny died in December 1993 and was replaced by the former speaker of the National Assembly, Henri Konan Bédié. The careful ethnic and regional balance which Houphouët-Boigny had nurtured, together with his welcoming of immigrant workers, was soon compromised. Bedie introduced the concept of 'Ivoirite' (Ivorian nationalism) into the political discourse, which quickly acquired xenophobic connotations.
This began a sequence of events which was to deprive the country of its long record of stability and prosperity. An armed rebellion in 2002 split the nation in two, and the main players in the conflict have so far failed to find a political solution. Although the fighting has stopped, the country remains divided and peacekeepers patrol the buffer zone between the rebel-held north and the government-controlled south.
Things to see and do
The former capital and largest city, Abidjan, is dominated by the Plateau, the central commercial district. The older, more traditional heart of the city is Treichville, home of many bars, restaurants and nightclubs as well as the colourful central market. There is a very good museum, the Ifon Museum, as well as the National Museum containing historic artefacts, statues and ivory.
Spot African wildlife. The national parks are largely inaccessible for visitors without their own vehicles. Local guides are necessary and easily available. The largest and oldest national park is Comoë National Park in the northeast, where lions, waterbucks, hippos and other animals can be observed. The Abokouamekro Game Reserve is about an hour outside Yamoussoukro.
About 100km (60 miles) east of the former capital is the beach resort of Assouinde; other places being developed as tourist attractions include Tiagba, a stilt town; Grand Bassam, whose sandy beaches make the place a favourite weekend retreat for the inhabitants of Abidjan; and Bondoukou, one of the oldest settlements in the country. Note that in Abidjan and the surrounding coastal resorts, there is a dangerous deep current and swimmers should stay near the shore. Local advice should be taken.
There is also good coastal and river fishing. Red carp, barracuda, mullet and sole can all be caught from the shores of the lagoons. Sea trips can be organised through travel agencies to catch shark, swordfish, bonito and marlin. Boats and instructors are available in Abidjan, where waterskiing facilities are also available.
Although much of Côte d'Ivoire has been deforested, there is good hiking in the west near Man (nicknamed the 'city of 18 mountains'). A guide is necessary for longer walks.
Other towns of interest include Korhogo, the main city of the north and centre of a good fishing and hunting district; the former capital of Bingerville; and the town of Bouaké in the centre of the country.
In the west of the country, visit the attractive town of Man, situated in a region of thickly forested mountains and plateaux. The nearby waterfalls are a popular attraction, as are climbs to the peak of Mount Tonkoui and visits to the villages of Biankouma and Gouessesso, 55km (34 miles) away.
Yamoussoukro is about 230km (143 miles) north of Abidjan. Discover the town's lively market, the Palace and Plantations of the President and the Mosque. Also of architectural interest but, above all, of statistical interest, is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix. Fractionally smaller than St Peter's in Rome, it incorporates a greater area of stained glass than the total area of stained glass in France.
Roman Catholicism is a minority religion in Côte d'Ivoire (some say that the cathedral could accommodate every Roman Catholic in the country several times over). Yamoussoukro was the birthplace of Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who was Côte d'Ivoire's president for 33 years. The cathedral was paid for almost entirely out of his own pocket.