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Île de Gorée
Gorée Island is hauntingly beautiful. ‘Setting sail’ from downtown Dakar, it only takes a 30-minute ferry ride to escape the bustling city and to reach the calm safe haven that is Gorée. Do prepare. There’s a reason I call it hauntingly beautiful. Dakar’s Île de Gorée has a dark and chilling past. Nestled between scenic lanes (without cars in sight), colourful buildings and mesmerising cliff ocean views, lies the Maison des Esclaves.
The House of Slaves is a museum and memorial site to commemorate the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade. The museum is home to the “Door of No Return”; a powerful signpost and last physical connection of enslaved Africans who were forcibly taken from the continent.
The number of enslaved Africans, who were forced onto boats headed to the Americas through this door, is disputed. Several articles were published on this when then US President Barack Obama visited Gorée Island in 2013. One historian, quoted in a Washington Post piece, quite aptly summarised the discussion: “turning the question of international slavery into a statistical exercise is not the most useful way to think about it, and sadly that legacy has clouded academic debates more than it has helped”. Regardless of the exact number of African slaves who were forced through the door, whether it was this exact spot or not, the museum and its “Door of No Return” remain a significant historical symbol for the continent and its diaspora alike.
I’d recommend Gorée Island as a half-day trip. You can organise ferry tickets and explore the island on your own. At the House of Slaves someone will probably approach you offering separate tours in English or French. Alternatively, you can pre-book the full experience from start to finish with Andaando Tours. I’ve tried both and the experience is always a delight.