Why visit the island?
For its history: Gorée island represents one of the darkest times in humanity, the African black slave trade.
Well situated and offering exceptional anchorage conditions, this small island of 900 meters by 300 meters was “discovered” by the Portuguese navigator Dias in 1444. It was then called Bêer by the natives.
In 1627, the island was taken over by the Dutch and then by the French 40 years later. The English fought against the French for its ownership 5 times which certainly testifies the strategic commercial interest of the island.
Since 1978, the island which is also one of the district municipalities of the city of Dakar, is part of the UNESCO World Heritage. With 1000 inhabitants, it is also a privileged place for a holiday home. And that, I must admit, shocked me a bit.
The House of Slaves
Built around 1780 by Nicolas Pépin, the House of Slaves was not the only slavery on the island, nor even the one that played a major role. But it now remains a place of symbolic memory.
On the ground floor can be found the slaves’ cells, kept as they were: damp, undeveloped, repulsive.
Men, women, girls and children were separated into different cells. Other rooms were intended for weighing, for keeping people with ‘temporary incapacities’ or even for taming the uncooperative ones.
The upper floor was reserved for the housing of the masters.
On average, slaves were stationed there for about 3 months before being sold and transported to Europe.
The cells reserved for men were only 2.60 m by 2.60 m in size but were occupied by up to 20 people, lined up with their backs against the wall, chains on their necks and arms.
The capacity in this small house ranged from 100 to 200 slaves.
The rest of the island’s sightseeings
It is pleasant to walk around in the streets and observe the colorful houses of the island. You will see there and there local artists, including some who work on making art pieces with different kinds of sand.
Because our visit only lasted a few hours, we skipped the visit of the Historical Museum and its Fort.
Although the locals like to bathe in the sea, the island has not proper beach for some relaxation time.
How to get there?
By ferry. Go to the Port of Dakar (21 boulevard de la Liberation) with your ID. Why? Because the price is different for residents in Senegal, African residents and foreigners (I paid 5000 CFA).
The crossing lasts about 20 minutes. However be careful about the wait to board the return trip, that can be long (we waited nearly 45 mins for the shuttle).
The entrance on the island
There is also an entry ticket on the island (1000 CFA if my memory serves me well). I was quite surprised by this and I did not find any official information on the internet … Watch out also for the many self-proclaimed guides who will try to sell you their services, by even following you and starting their comments without your prior agreement. Make sure you agreed with them about the cost before moving inside the island …