Cowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.The Ouidah Museum of HistoryCowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.Cowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.Cowry shells, native to the Maldive Islands and used as currency across West Africa, were often used to create decorative patterns on ceramic vessels.
HOMESite Francais Contact Us

A "sacred" python:  the kingdom of Dahomey adopted worship of the python from the Xwéda kingdom, and python veneration is continued in Ouidah to this day.
About the Museum
Themes
  Xwéda Kingdom
  Dahomey
  Slave Trade
  Vodun
  Benin and the Diaspora
History of Ouidah
Visiting the Museum
Visiting Ouidah
Resources
The Portuguese Fort

The Ouidah Museum of History is located within a compound that was once a Portuguese Fort, built to facilitate the trade in slaves between the kingdom of Xwéda and Portugal . The fort was constructed in 1721 by Joseph de Torres, and remained the property of Portugal until 1961, when it was forcibly annexed by the government of the Republic of Dahomey .

Bell from the chapel inside the Portuguese Fort at Ouidah.
Bell from
Portuguese Fort

The fort itself is one of the finest treasures of the Ouidah Museum of History. Its outer walls form a trapezoid, and the compound covers approximately one hectare in total. Originally, the fort was surrounded by a deep, broad moat; persons entering the fort were required to cross a bridge which was removed each night. Within the compound was a central building for sleeping and receiving guests, as well as an office, a military garrison, a powder magazine, barracks, a chapel, and a holding area for slaves.

Throughout its life under Portuguese control, the fort allowed the Portuguese to maintain diplomatic and trade relationships with the area's reigning power, and as social, religious, and trade needs changed, so too did the fort. The compound was gradually de-militarized and made more suitable for comfortable living and entertaining guests. In 1861, the fort became the base of a Catholic Mission, which established the Kingdom of Dahomey 's first school, and soon after began baptisms. When the French succeeded in colonizing Dahomey in the 1890s, the fort was deemed exclusive property of Portugal.

Click to Enlarge: Small chest from the Portuguese Fort at Ouidah, found empty.
Chest from
Portuguese Fort

Though the Portuguese burned the Fort and its contents when they were ejected by the newly independent government of Dahomey in 1961, the Museum retains many antique objects recovered from the fort during its reconstruction in the mid-1960s. There are also numerous historic maps and illustrations dating from the Portuguese occupation of the fort.

Shield adorning the entrance to the old Portuguese Fort, now the Ouidah Museum of History.
Typical decorative pattern on Xwédan ceramic artifacts.Typical decorative pattern on Xwédan ceramic artifacts.