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Historic Georgetown

Date of Submission: 29/04/2015
Criteria: (iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of The Gambia to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Janjangbureh Island, Central River Region
Coordinates: N13 44 31 W15 31 01
Ref.: 6064

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The historic quarter of the Island of Janjangbureh, Historic Georgetown, is being proposed for inclusion in the tentative list as an extension of the Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites inscription. The area encompassing two streets and the environs of the Regional Governor's office and residence, is approximately 500 sq meters in extent and is replete  with historic buildings and other relics dating back to the colonial period and earlier. The area continues to evoke the spirit of the island in its heydays.

Some of the buildings in the historic quarter which was the European settlement are in a reasonable state of conservation,especially those that were acquired by the local inhabitants and have been converted to new uses such as accommodation and bar and restaurant facilities to serve the growing tourist industry. Others have been converted to government offices. Many are rapidly decaying or are merely ruins with upstanding walls.

The area around the Regional Governor's house was the British settlement and seat of government with several period buildings still standing in their original glory. The Governor's compound was the site of Fort George and still has the original canons that were used in the makeshift  fortification. The building has been renovated to enable it to continue its function as the residence and office of the most important government official in the region. In close proximity are two colonial relics, the Post Office which also doubled as telephone exchange facility and the Deputy Governor's house. Both building are well preserved, maintained and continue to be in use.

Owen Street, the location of the present market, continues to be the main business/commercial thoroughfare of Janjangbureh. The street was mainly occupied by the trading firms of the colonial period. Most of their houses which doubled as shops can still be identified but are in various stages of decay. The streetscape remains virtually unchanged and continues to evoke the spirit of the time when trading was vibrant in this community. A wooden house on this street testifies to the presence of the community of Liberated Africans who were sent in from Freetown in 1832 to plug the skills gap that was apparent in the new British settlement. On the same street is the Methodist Church which in its early life served both as church and school,and is regarded as the longest surviving Methodist church that continues to be in use. 

Findlay Street, along the waterfront  is the location of two large buildings which are interpreted as slave house and slave dungeon by the local guides but date to a later historical period when slavery had been effectively abolished. One of these buildings,of which only walls remain, appears to be a warehouse with an adjoining wharf inscribed at the bottom with the date 1899 still extant. Records indicate that the building belonged to the Compagnie Francaise d'Afrique Occidentale {CFAO) who acquired the plot of land from the colonial government in 1892.The other building which belonged to the Maurel and Prom Company has a basement which is now controversially interpreted as slave dungeon. Both buildings are in various stages of decay and remain unused,but continue to gain immense attraction as relics of Georgetown's past.

To the west of the settlement is a Christian cemetery where headstones and tombs attest to the numerous colonial administrators, traders, missionaries and liberated Africans who lived and passed away in Georgetown. At the junction of Jackson and Mercer Street is the last remaining colonial metal lamppost on which gas lamps were hung to provide light for the tiny British settlement.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Historic Georgetown on Janjangbureh Island forms a logical extension to the Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites inscription which bear testimony to the different facets and phases of the African-European encounter along the River Gambia,from the 15th to the 19th centuries. The River Gambia was particularly important, forming the first trade route to the inland of Africa. The location of Kunta Kinteh Island and its Related Sites,at the mouth of the Gambia River,is a tangible reminder of the story of the development of the Gambia River as one of the most important waterways for trade of all kinds from the interior to the Coast and beyond. The important role of the site in both the propagation and the conclusion of the slave trade makes it an outstanding memory ofthis important and painful period of human history.

However, the World Heritage Site as presently constituted  has seven separate locations all of which are limited to the coastal areas, with no direct evidence of interior penetration of this highly navigable waterway which attracted early European explorers including the famous Scottish explorer Mungo Park, who in 1795 set out from Karantaba 20 km from Janjangbureh on his voyage to discover the source of the Niger. This is the gap to be filled by the extension of the site to include the historic quarter of Georgetown, the furthest inland settlement  of the British colonialists which was crucial in maintaining The Gambia as a British colony instead of a French enclave.

The addition will stand to illustrate the extent of European penetration and the period during which British rule was consolidated, ushering in the formal start of the protectorate system and the recognition of Gambia as British colonial possession. Being the furthest inland settlement of the British, Janjangbureh Island served variously as a refuge for slaves, military outpost, interior administrative centre, trading station, and religious and educational springboard. It continues to maintain tangible associations with these legacies in both its building  fabric, street patterns and streetscapes.
As an independent site the Historic Georgetown is an outstanding example of a late 19th and early 20th-century well planned colonial town with areas specializing in administration, commerce, housing for Europeans and housing for Africans.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Historic Georgetown retains a high degree of authenticity and integrity and continues to evoke the spirit of the British settlement in the early 1800s.

Comparison with other similar properties

The site in the World List that has the closest similarity to Historic Georgetown is the Island of Goree in Senegal. But, whereas for Goree the whole Island constitutes the listing, Historic Georgetown on the other hand is a limited area within the Island of Janjangbureh. Moreover, the historical experiences of two sites are very dissimilar, and in the case of Historic Georgetown the significance lies more on efforts at the abolition of the heinous trade than its perpetuation, which Goree represents. Most of the historic towns in the World Heritage List are not sited on Islands or associated with the European penetration of the interior of the continent.