|photo credits: mira eng-goetz and wikipedia|
this week in class, we've been exploring the affects of colonization on architecture around the world. throughout europe during the 1600s, an increase in wealth, food security and ship design led merchants to establish far reaching sea trade routes that inevitably included west africa. the main port on africa's atlantic coast was established by the french in 1659 on a narrow island just off the coast of senegal called ndar locally, and named saint louis du fort by the colonizers in homage to their king louis XIV. as a permanent french settlement, st. louis became the leading urban center in sub-saharan africa, exporting gum arabic, beeswax, hides and most importantly--slaves.
between 1659 and 1779, a bourgeois franco-african merchant community known as the metis played an important role in the political, cultural, social, and economic life of the city. catholic institutions, refined entertainment venues and elegant boulevards lined with white washed stucco buildings in the french colonial style were funded by the metis. although the old city of st. louis still stands with its shuttered windows, wrought iron balconies and baguette carts, it's become rather tattered around the edges with signs of disrepair and neglect. today senegal's capital dakar is the country's leading economic port and consequently st. louis' trade economy has been overshadowed. nostalgic french tourists keep the old quarter afloat with their patronage of the bars, hotels and craft stands.
i have visited st. louis a handful of times, and have come to realize that the true life of the city now exists outside of the old quarter-- beyond the colonial architecture and into the colorful sections of the city that are unmistakably senegalese. colorful painted pirogues (canoes), road side cheb-u-djen (rice and fish) restaurants, mosque minarets, the scent of drying fish and sugary mint tea all bring me joy to know a people that has risen out of slavery and colonization to maintain their own culture in the end.