Inscribed as West Africa's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, the 69-acre/28-hectare island of Goree in Senegal is the only West African town founded by early European settlers to have retained its pre-20th-century shape.
An association with the trans-Atlantic slave trade has made Goree a pilgrimage site for African-Americans and other descendents of the estimated 10 million-12 million West Africans who were shipped across the Atlantic between the 16th and 19th centuries. In reality, Goree was probably never as important in the slave trade as many mainland ports, but its Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves) and famous "Door of No Return" are potent reminders of the iniquities of the slave trade and the horrors inflicted on its victims
Tour the island's two museums and Maison des Esclaves (built in 1776)—they detail what life was like for those in bondage as they waited, often for months, on the island for a ship to take them away. Also worth a visit is the Maison de la Femme, directly across the way from Maison des Esclaves. It depicts the life of Senegalese women through photos, artifacts and artwork. IFAN (Black Africa Fundamental Institute) staffs a small history museum in the restored Fort d'Estrees, and there are other historical buildings on the island.
Beyond its historical significance, Goree is just a lovely place to walk around, take in the romantic views and escape the hubbub of Dakar, a mere 2 mi/3 km north. Many local artists, some using recycled materials, set up their wares for sale along the footpaths, especially atop the island's fortress.
Ile de Goree, closed to autos and bikes, is reached by a 20-minute ferry ride from Dakar. Allow at least half a day for this visit, preferably in the evening or on a weekday. It's also possible to stay on the island overnight.
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