The Slave House

Île de Gorée was an important trading station during the 18th and 19th centuries, and many merchants built houses in which they would live or work in the upper storey and store their human cargo on the lower floor.

La Maison des Esclaves (The Slave House) is one of the last remaining 18th-century buildings of this type on Gorée. It was built in 1786 and renovated in 1990 with French assistance. With its famous 'doorway to nowhere' opening directly from the storeroom onto the sea, this building has enormous spiritual significance for some visitors, particularly African Americans whose ancestors were brought from Africa as slaves.

Walking around the dimly lit dungeons, you can begin to imagine the suffering of the people held here. It is this emotive illustration that really describes La Maison des Esclaves as a whole – its historical significance in the slave trade may not have been huge, but the island's symbolic role is immense.

The island's precise status as a slave-trading station is hotly debated. Of the 20 million slaves that were taken from Africa, the general belief is that only around 300 per year may have gone through Gorée (historians and academics dispute the exact number and some argue that no slaves passed through this specific house); and, even then, the famous doorway would not have been used – ships could not get near the dangerous rocks and the town had a jetty a short distance away.

But the number of slaves transported from here isn't what matters in the debate around Gorée. The island and museum stands as a melancholy reminder of the suffering the Atlantic slave trade inflicted on African people.