There is only twenty minutes of ferry crossing between Dakar and the island of Gorée. Here, it is the calm (relative) and the quietude found again a few cables of the boisterous and unbearable Senegalese capital. With its 900 meters long and 300 meters wide, the island, lined with palm trees, can be visited on foot strolling in the narrow alleys between its colonial houses. It must be said that the place is trendy. It is the refuge of retired expatriates, sculptors, painters in sight, show-biz people and also bobos from here or elsewhere. It is a bit like the island of Ré of the Dakarois.
The weight of the past
The tour begins with the beautiful government square that faces the landing stage and hosts an improvised craft market and cafe terraces.
On the other side, the former Ecole Normale William Ponty, which had several French-speaking African leaders as pupils: Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d'Ivoire), Madiko Keitia (Mali), Hamani Diori (Niger) Hubert Maga and Emile Zinzou (Benin), Mamadou Dia (Senegal).
On both sides of the square, three large buildings tired by the years: the hospital, the relay of the Espadon and the town hall (former governmental palace). Not far from the museum of the sea which presents no less than 1500 species of fish that are found off Senegal ...
All these houses carry the weight of a past, not so far away. It was in their cellars that the slaves were piled, beaten, and whipped. On the ground floor and in the upper floors the slavers lived in total luxury.
In reality, it is to the trade of slavery that the island must have been built, occupied and defended. In the 17th century the Dutch took the place as the base of their traffic. They build the "Fort Nassau" to protect themselves from the French and English attacks. Until the end of the 17th century, only traffickers and soldiers lived here in the midst of Africans in charge of subordinate tasks.
The Memory of the Walls
It was during this period that separate districts were established. Behind the harbor live the free Muslim blacks. At the foot of the hill the wealthy Europeans gathered in the shadow of the fort, now a museum.
It is these houses, hard and with tile roofs, that today cover the island. The abolition of slavery, the creation of Dakar, made the death knell for the slave traders and the prosperity of Gorée.
From this less glorious period it remains today the "House of the slaves". A didactic museum, rather well made, although Gorée did not play a leading role in the blacks. This visit is unavoidable. In a short time the guide explains the strategic importance of the place and the mechanism of the slave trade.
And then there are all these walls that speak. Below is the slave park, sorted by sex, carefully separated from their ethnic groups and their families. Cells for women, children, young virgins (the prettiest being reserved for the masters) The mitard for the recalcitrant.
The box of temporary immigrants fattened as pigs until they reach the 60 kg required for use. At the end of the corridor one reaches the sinister door of the "journey without return". It was through this that the slaves were thrown into frail boats before being embarked for the American continent.
The locals at nightfall
The visitor, generally, comes here for the day and may be wrong. The place is worth more. There are all the charms of a small Mediterranean island (in the middle of the Atlantic) gathered around a cove of transparent water.
The evening after the departure of the last boat Gorée regains its serenity. Do not hesitate to sleep on site, but beware there are very few rooms. It is at sunset that we appreciate the best colors and quality of silence.