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 .
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.
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.