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World Heritage Site

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Island of Gorée

Island of Gorée

The Island of Gorée is known as a former center of the Atlantic slave trade from where many Black slaves were deported to the Americas.

The island of Gorée was one of the first places in Africa to be settled by Europeans, the Portuguese setting foot on the island in 1444. It was captured by the United Netherlands in 1588, then the Portuguese again, again the Dutch - who named it after the Dutch island of Goeree, and the British took it over under Robert Holmes in 1664.

After the French gained control in 1677, the island remained continuously French until 1960, when Senegal was granted independence. There were brief periods of English occupation during the various wars fought by France and England between 1677 and 1815.

Gorée was principally a trading post, administratively attached to Saint-Louis, capital of the Colony of Senegal. Apart from slaves, beeswax, hides and grain were also traded. The population of the island fluctuated according to circumstances, from a few hundred free Africans and Creoles to about 1,500. There would have been few European residents at any one time.

Map of Island of Gorée


  • Cultural

Community Reviews

Solivagant UK 16.12.10

Island of Gorée by Solivagant

Goree is a small pleasant island situated a 30minute ferry ride offshore from crowded ugly Dakar. Free of vehicles, its sandy streets are lined with pleasing old houses and flowering shrubs. There is a fort, a castle (with some impressive early 20th century gun emplacements) and several restaurants – in its own right it deserves a visit if you are in Senegal. BUT – beyond these anodyne aspects, lies its claimed “history” as a centre of the Atlantic slave trade and its subsequent emergence as “a memorial to the African diaspora. (which) continues to serve as a reminder of human exploitation and as a sanctuary for reconciliation.” (UNESCO long description).

The central point for this “memorial” is the “Maison des esclaves”. Within you will be shown what are said to be slave prison rooms and the “gate of no return” through which slaves were sent to the Americas. You will be regaled with details of the undoubted horrors of the slave trade. You will be shown plaques commemorating the visits of numerous world leaders – a visit is de rigeur for any such person visiting Senegal –Mandela, the Clintons, George W Bush and Pope John Paul II among them.

However, whether this building was ever a slave trading prison and, indeed, whether Goree itself was ever a significant entrepot of the trade is a matter of considerable doubt. But beware - to question any of this is regarded by some as the equivalent of being a holocaust denier!

Another quote from the UNESCO description states “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.”

It is amazing that UNESCO should carry such unsupportable statements on its Web site – the inscription of Goree dates right back to 1978 and there is no objectively assessed nomination file or AB evaluation on file. However all the facts about the Atlantic slave trade and its geographic spread over time from Senegal round to Angola involving a number of European states, together with the likely maximum and minimum numbers involved indicate that such a number could certainly NOT have passed through Goree – or in all likelihood even from all the other locations involved! And indeed the Maison des esclaves looks far more like an example of the “elegant house” than of a “prison” – especially if you ignore the modern iron bars! Anyone interested in researching the subject can find plenty of material on the history of the house, its development into a museum and tourist site and its elevation as a powerful symbol disassociated from its real history.

I personally disliked being “manipulated” by all this ersatz “cod history” and Goree has joined my list of similarly tendentiously presented sites (e.g Genbaku Dome). But factual truth is not the issue here – Goree has become a shrine and to question its historical “details” is as pointless as going to Lourdes and questioning the reality of miracles. The interest lies more in its contemporary role as a cultural icon – for the Black Diaspora, for Black Africa and for “guilt ridden” Europeans and Americans. If you want to see a site whose physical connection to the Atlantic slave trade is undoubtedly significant and genuine go to some of the “Gold Cost Forts and Castles”. Their presentation of the historical background also contains its propagandist aspects – but, at least, the site’s historic credentials are genuine.

Helene Toure, Senegal

I have lived in Goree for 8 years and this is really one of most important testimony of the slave trade that history has to offer

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Site Info

Full name: Island of Gorée

Unesco ID: 26

Inscribed: 1978

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 6  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 1978 - Inscribed 


The site has 1 locations.

  • Island of Gorée