According to Yoruba history, Ile-Ife is the cradle of human civilization, for it is where the founding deities Oduduwa and Obatala began the creation of the world. Thus, it is regarded as the origin of all Yoruba people. Conversely, the Oòni (King) of Ife, who is a direct descent from the god Oduduwa, is the premier Yoruba king. The current Ooni of Ife is Oba Okunade Sijuade.
Ile-Ife is the spiritual seat of Yorubas, and at the head of that seat is the Ooni of Ife. This is why his Palace bears historical significance. The Ooni’s palace is also called Oke-ile (the house built on an elevated site).
The Ooni’s present day palace has been in existence for centuries and is located at the centre of a city called Enuwa in Ile-Ife. The palace is home to not only the Ooni but also to his Oloris (wives) and his children. Besides being the abode of members of the royal family, it is also the location of a meeting hall for the high chiefs of Ile-Ife.
Until a few decades ago, the Ooni’s palace was constructed with a mud wall but since the demolition of those buildings, modern buildings built with cement have been erected. The palace is a well-landscaped home of treasures.
The five main sections of Ile Ife flow from three major roads that meet at an orita (intersection) called Enu Owa (meaning “mouth of the king”, and from which Enuwa is derived). In Yoruba traditional belief, an orita is not just a place where three roads meet, but a place where sacrifices may be offered to spirits and messages maybe conveyed to the gods or other spiritual realms.
It is believed that the Ooni’s palace is protected by the city’s layout around its centre. The palace houses relics of Yoruba history and has been designated a historical monument by the Osun State Government.
A tour around the palace is replete with tales from Yoruba history. One of such is woven around one of the relics in the palace, the Yemolu Well, from which only the reigning Ooni is allowed to drink water traditionally. According to legend, one of the past Oonis had a wife who was barren and one day she turned into the well. Not even the offspring of a reigning Ooni can drink from Yemolu Well.
A lot of Festivals in Ile-Ife either begin or end at the Palace yearly. For example, the Agbon Festival, in celebration of one of Oduduwa’s wives, culminates in an event held at the Ooni’s Palace on the seventh day, where bean cake is freely distributed to the crowd and the Ooni blesses the people.
A visit to the Ooni of Ife’s Palace is incomplete without stopping next door at the Ife Museum, which is also in Enuwa Square, Ile-Ife The history museum is dedicated to the preservation of antiquities that were found in Ile Ife, including many bronzes and terracotta sculptures dating back to the 13th century.