Island of Gorée
The island of Gorée lies off the coast of Senegal, opposite Dakar. From the 15th to the 19th century, it was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. Ruled in succession by the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French, its architecture is characterized by the contrast between the grim slave-quarters and the elegant houses of the slave traders. Today it continues to serve as a reminder of human exploitation and as a sanctuary for reconciliation.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Island of Gorée testifies to an unprecedented human experience in the history of humanity. Indeed, for the universal conscience, this “memory island” is the symbol of the slave trade with its cortege of suffering, tears and death.
The painful memories of the Atlantic slave trade are crystallized in this small island of 28 hectares lying 3.5 km off the coast from Dakar. Gorée owes its singular destiny to the extreme centrality of its geographical position between the North and the South, and to its excellent strategic position offering a safe haven for anchoring ships, hence the name “Good Rade”. Thus, since the 15th century it has been prized by various European nations that have successively used it as a stopover or slave market. First terminus of the “homeoducs” who drained the slaves from the hinterland, Gorée was at the centre of the rivalry between European nations for control of the slave trade. Until the abolition of the trade in the French colonies, the Island was a warehouse consisting of over a dozen slave houses. Amongst the tangible elements that reflect Gorée’s universal value are, notably, the Castle, a rocky plateau covered with fortifications which dominate the Island; the Relais de l’Espadon, former residence of the French governor; etc…
The Island of Gorée is now a pilgrimage destination for the African diaspora, a foyer for contact between the West and Africa, and a space for exchange and dialogue between cultures through the confrontation of ideals of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Criterion (vi): The Island of Goree is an exceptional testimony to one of the greatest tragedies in the history of human societies: the slave trade. The various elements of this “memory island” – fortresses, buildings, streets, squares, etc. – recount, each in its own way, the history of Gorée which, from the 15th to the 19th century, was the largest slave-trading centre of the African coast.
The insular nature of Gorée and an arsenal of legal texts contribute to the physical integrity of the site. The Atlantic Ocean provides a natural buffer zone of nearly 4 km.
Listed as a historic site by the colonial administration in 1944, with specific safeguarding measures, Gorée has recorded no major construction since then that might adversely affect the authenticity of the site, the major components of which have remained almost intact. Moreover, the rehabilitations and restorations have been carried out essentially in accordance with the principles of the Convention.
Protection and management requirements
The Island of Goree was designated a historic site in 1944, with safeguarding measures in 1951 (under the colonial era). It was subsequently inscribed on the national heritage list in 1975 (Order No. 012771 of 17 November 1975) and on the World Heritage List in 1978.
In 1979, a Safeguarding Committee was created by Order, comprising all the stakeholders, to monitor compliance with the Convention (conformity of the rehabilitation works, security of the property, etc.). An Order for the appointment of a site manager has been drafted and is currently in the process of aoption.
The replica of the "Gorée Memorial" on the Castle is an eloquent example of what should be avoided when preserving the integrity of the site and, in agreement with UNESCO, a modification of this work will be undertaken.
The Island of Gorée is a memorial to the African diaspora. It continues to serve as a reminder of human exploitation and as a sanctuary for reconciliation.
Gorée is a small (18 ha) land mass located off the coast of Senegal, opposite Dakar. From the 15th to the 19th centuries, it was the largest slave-trading centre on the African coast. An estimated 20 million Africans passed through the Island between the mid-1500s and the mid-1800s. Ruled in succession by the Portuguese, Dutch, English and French, its architecture is characterized by the contrast between the grim slave-quarters and the elegant houses of the slave traders.
The House of Slaves was built in 1776 by the Dutch, the last surviving slave house in Gorée; the earliest date back to 1536 and were built by Portuguese, the first Europeans to set foot on the Island in 1444. Cells, each 2.60 m by 2.60 m, were reserved for men and contained up to 15 to 20 people, seated with their backs against the wall, chained around the neck and arms. In the middle of the chain, there was a big iron ball which the slave had to carry between his two hands and two legs. They were released only once a day to satisfy their needs, generally within this house. The hygienic conditions were so revolting that the first pest epidemic which ravaged the island in 1779 originated here.
A small house contained between 150 and 200 slaves, who had to wait for very long periods - up to three months - before being carried away on board ship. Their departure to the Americas also depended on the buyers, and family separation was total. There were special cells where children were stored and in these the mortality rate was obviously the highest in the house.
The young girls were separated from the women because they were more expensive. All the houses situated on the edge of Gorée - even the actual presbytery - were former slave houses. Some slave traders had sexual relations with the young slave girls and when they got pregnant they were released in Gorée or in Saint-Louis. It was thus in the young girls' interest to give themselves to the slave traders in order to gain freedom. It was for these young girls the only way to salvation. The mixed-race girls in Gorée, commonly called 'Signare', a deformation of the Portuguese word senhoras, formed the aristocracy in Gorée, like the Creoles in the French West Indies.
There was a cell where they kept the temporarily unfit, because a man's value was based on his weight: the minimum weight for men was fixed at 60 kg. If they weighed less than this these men were placed in cells to be fattened with locally grown beans, very starchy, known in Senegal as niebe.
This sloping corridor is today known as the gate of 'the trip from which no one returned', because once the slaves left through this gate leading into the sea, it was their farewell to Africa. Just outside this gate, there was a wharf of palm wood, which served as a loading dock, and some of the slaves obviously awaited the loading to try to escape by plunging into the sea. They could not go far as they were either shot by the guards or devoured by the sharks, attracted because the sick and injured were thrown into the sea.
Leaning over the balcony on this staircase, the buyers and the European slave traders were able to observe the slaves and to discuss the muscular value of each, because each African ethnic group had its quoted value and specialization. The upper part of the building served as a residence for European traders.
The conservation of the Island of Gorée has as its objective the rehabilitation of the heritage and socio-economic revitalization. The preservation of the architectural heritage is linked to the protection of the natural environment (coastal areas) and the improvement of the infrastructure (water, sewers, refuse disposal, etc.).Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC