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Forts of Goree Island

Within a short distance of the south tip of Cap-Vert, three kilometres from the capital of Senegal, there is a rocky island whose colonial architecture vividly reminds of the infamous era of human trafficking, which took millions of lives in Africa. The Gorée Island was the centre of trafficking for several successive centuries and a starting base for ships with «human cargo». This resulted in building forts and strongholds on this small island: the Fort of Nassau – today in ruins; Fort d'Estrées – a popular history museum is currently located behind its walls; and Fort Saint Michael, built at the highest spot of the island, at the top of a basaltic hill. In 1978 the Gorée Island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as a result these old buildings were preserved and became popular as Senegal's tourist sites.

History of the forts on the Gorée

Island Located on a quiet and sheltered bay, the Gorée Island was discovered in 1444 by Denis Dias, a Portuguese sailor and explorer of Africa's west coast as well as the discoverer of Cap-Vert. Over some decades, the suitable localisation of this island was also valued by another Portuguese sailor, Diogo Gomes, who established beneficial relations with the chief of a nearby tribe. Soon, the indigenous people (Lebou) were significantly pushed back by the Portuguese who made an intermediate place for merchant ships there: they got water, built houses for a temporary stay on land and buried dead sailors.

In 1482 a Catholic church was built on the island, and in the year 1530 the construction of a castle began on the top of the rocky coast. The castle served later as foundations for Fort Saint Michael, the whole island area was called Le Castel (Castle). In one of the remained letters dated from 1529, "Don Gudumel", governor of the island, asks Portuguese King John III to send builders, carpenters and other workers in order to erect a castle on the island, pointing out all benefits for the nation’s coffers. In 1536 a defensive structure was constructed on the island to control the process of slave trade. (more)

What can you see there?

The most popular and best preserved fortification on the Gorée Island is Fort d'Estrées. Today the collections of the Senegal History Museum are housed behind its walls. This museum, which is a branch of the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa, was open in 1989, just after the reconstruction of the fort. More than 500 exhibit items, historic documents and cartographic materials are displayed in several sections dedicated to the general history of Senegal – from the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic to the fight for independence and contemporary times. Many of these exhibit items tell us about tragic events from the salve trade era, which relates directly to the Gorée Island.

Apart from the forts, several buildings with the architecture from the colonial era also remained on the island, including the infamous House of Slaves constructed in the 1790s. White slavers lived in this house in spacious rooms on the upper floor, while on a lower floor there were special cells where African slaves waited in inhuman conditions for being transported to the New World. Here, fates were decided and families were separated since husbands, wives and their children were often bought by different buyers who transported their new slaves not only to different towns but also to different countries. In the centre of this house, between a pair of stairs, a small door remained, which was called the «door behind which there is no return» because it led the slaves bought to ships.

Another famous tourist attraction on the Gorée Island is the Maritime Museum located in a historic villa of the West India Company. A rich collection of this museum shows several hundreds of fish and molluscs of various types to public. The flora enthusiasts will also find something interesting for them such as an old botanic garden at du Port Rhu, which was destroyed by the French in the golden era of Louis XIV.