A city is often defined by its architecture: geography, history, economics and politics all form an intrinsic part of the practice, even before you consider art and design.
Once the highest building in Dakar, this 120-metre high lighthouse sits atop one of the city’s two hills (Les Mamelles) on the western edge of the city. Built by the French in 1864, the lighthouse is one of the most powerful in Africa with a range of 56 miles, which is just as well given Dakar juts out of the mainland on the Cap-Vert Peninsula.
Once of fundamental importance for European traders navigating their way down the Atlantic, who would distinguish between its flashing white light and the red light of the Cap Manuel lighthouse on the tip of the Peninsula), the lighthouse is still warding the ocean today. Although, the swish bar-restaurant-nightclub that has opened up at the base of the 16-metre-high cylindrical tower is very much a recent addition.
La Maison des Esclaves
Key to colonial interests was the island of Gorée, which sits two km off Dakar’s south coast. The island is a UNESCO world heritage site and was the largest slave-trading centre in West Africa between the 15th and 19th centuries. In its brutal heyday, the island hosted nearly 30 slave houses, where African men, women and children were kept in barbaric conditions: squalid, cramped, windowless cells packed with natives they were sold and shipped to the West.
All bar one has been destroyed with La Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves), built by the Dutch in 1772, the sole remaining on the island. Established as museum in the 1960s, it serves as a harrowing reminder of the brutality, cruelty and scale of the transatlantic slave trade.
Dakar International Conference Centre
In comparison, the Dakar International Conference Centre – or Centre International de Conférences Abdou Diouf (CICAD) to give it its full name – is a relative new kid on the block, having only opened in 2014. Designed by Turkey-based Tabanlioglu architects, the striking complex is situated between the city and the new Blaise Diagne airport in the town of Diamniadio and its 1500-seater auditorium recently welcomed Rihanna and French President Emmanuel Macron onto its stage during the Global Partnership in Education conference.
Intricately designed with Senegal’s geography and national values in mind, the Centre is made up of a host of impressive features, such as a reflection pool and roof canopy, while the interior is perforated with light, colours and delicate patterns. Well worth a visit if heading to the airport or Petit Côte.
Mosquée de la Divinité
Nestled in a horseshoe cove in the western quarter of Ouakam, the Mosque de la Divinité is breath-takingly beautiful; not surprising given it was the brainchild of the Ultimate Architect. In 1973, an illuminated model of the mosque came to holy man Mohamed Gorgui Seyni Guèye in a dream. A voice from above instructed him to follow the mosque to see where it landed, leading him to Ouakam Bay, where it supposedly floated down like paper. Two decades later and the shovels were finally out with the first call to prayer drifting out of its 45-metre-long minarets some five years later in 1997. It has since been claimed that the Mosque is one of the five.