Dakar is one of those cities that came into being almost by accident. Its first appearance was in the guise of a humble service depot; its sole function to cater to the needs of a growing offshore European trade station, that of Île de Gorée.
Founding of Dakar
The Portuguese settled on Île de Gorée in the 15th Century CE. The tiny, unremarkable island, on the westernmost point of the African mainland, was selected by the Portuguese to serve as a base for their West African slave trade operations.
The island changed hands a few times over the following centuries, eventually ending up with the French, who continued to use it as a base for slave trading.
Meanwhile, the humble service facility on the mainland, staffed by the local Lebou people, continued to grow. It acquired the name: Ndakaaru.
In 1815 France officially abolished the slave trade, although it would take another 35 years before the trade would be fully stamped out.
But at that moment, Île de Gorée’s function had come to an end.
Peanuts were the next big industry in the region. The crop was farmed on the mainland in high volumes, prompting the construction of warehouses and other facilities in Ndakaaru.
The humble service depot was suddenly a settlement in its own right.
By 1902 Dakar had grown into such an impressive city it became the capital of French West Africa. In 1960 it became the capital of the independent Senegal.
African Renaissance Monument
One of the main tourist attractions of the Senegalese capital is the highly-visible African Renaissance Monument. Completed in 2010, the statue is 49 metres tall, making it the tallest statue in Africa. It sits atop a small, prominent peak, one of two such mounds that are collectively known as Deux Mamelles (meaning: two breasts).
President Wade, who dreamt up the idea for the statue, claimed it would demonstrate that Africa has arrived in the 21st century standing tall and more ready than ever to take its destiny into its hands.
Critics of the statue ask: if the statue is meant to embody Africa taking its destiny into its own hands, why was it designed by a Romanian architect and built by North Koreans? They also ask, why are the figures not recognisably African in physique? And, why are the woman’s clothes falling off?
Critics argue that the statue symbolises the outdated values of macho, authoritarian rule. Local religious figure say that it’s idolatrous and indecent.
It hasn’t been ripped down yet, but if you really want to see it, then I suggest going now while you still have the chance.
Dakar Grand Mosque
This enormous mosque, with a minaret that stands 67 metres in height, was designed by French and Moroccan architects.
It was opened in 1964 by the King of Morocco, and is undoubtedly Moroccan in style (with design cues to Koutabia Mosque in Marrakesh, and Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca).
Mosque of the Divinity
Located in the seaside neighbourhood of Oukam, and built right down on the beach itself, is the Mosque of the Divinity, completed in 1973.
Of the two mosques I’ve just listed the Mosque of the Divinity was definitely my favourite due to its unique style and aspect.
Musée Théodore Monod, Dakar
Housed in a charming Art Deco building, the Musée Théodore Monod contains several galleries of West African masks, statuary, and handicrafts. There is also an exhibition of local contemporary art.
It’s regarded as one of the best museums in West Africa.
Is Dakar safe?
I am unable to comment on the city as a whole as I only spent a few days there, but I will say that I felt safe during my time in Dakar. Ami and I walked all around the city centre by ourselves during the day and never felt troubled.
Is Dakar worth a visit?
Yes, Dakar is lots of fun, with a nice blend of chaos and function. It’s a pretty city, with lots of splendid coastline, and several decent day trips to sites such as Île de Gorée, Yoff Beach, and Lac Rose.
Practical information and how to reach Dakar:
Dakar is served by Blaise Diagne International Airport. It’s one of the busiest and best connected airports in West Africa, with plenty of routes throughout the region, as well as to Europe. More transport info here.