Located in the west of Benin along the Atlantic coast, the city of Ouidah is considered the country’s capital of Voodoo, and was once one of the most active slave trading ports in Africa. Ouidah is today a symbol of resilience and hope, bringing visitors and descendants of slaves from around the world who want to learn about slavery or retrace their origins, much of which is commemorated and remembered through important artefacts, sites, museums and statues.
During the late 17th century, Ouidah became one of the largest slave trading ports in West Africa, largely managed and ruled by the kings of the powerful Kingdom of Dahomey. It was this kingdom that would then buy enslaved Africans from other kings in surrounding kingdoms and sell them to European traders. It is estimated that over two centuries more than one million African captives were exported from Ouidah.
Today, this troubled history can be traced along its four-kilometre Route des Esclave, which follows the passage from the historical slave auction square, now home to the Musée d’Histoire de Ouidah, to the Door of No Return, a monument that marks the point where millions of enslaved Africans departed across the Atlantic Ocean into slavery in Brazil and the Americas.
Important sites along this route include: the ‘Tree of Forgetfulness’, where the kings of Dahomey believed that if the slaves marched around the tree (women seven times and men nine), they would forget all ties to their homeland and thus never return; the mass grave memorial and nearby ‘tree of no return’ that the kings planted as an anchor for returning spirits out of concern that slaves who died at sea would return to seek vengeance. Another place of interest in Ouidah is the Temple of Pythons, a Vodun temple home to a pit filled with royal python snakes. The serpents are an important religious symbol and are believed to bring protection to followers of Vodun.
In addition to these key sites, Ouidah is also home to stunning natural habitats, including the coastline and the Sacred Forest of Kpassè that surround the city. The annual Voodoo festival, a national holiday in Benin for over 20 years, is held on the 10 January every year in Ouidah and is both a celebration of Voodoo and a day to remember the millions uprooted by the transatlantic slave trade.
For accommodation in Ouidah, see below.