Tag Archives: unesco

Bright colors and dark past of Gorée Island

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Obama on Goree Island

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama look out from the Door of No Return on Gorée Island (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barak Obama’s recent trip to Senegal, and especially his stop at Gorée Island, made me think back to my own visit there. Gorée is a tiny island in the Dakar harbor with painful history lurking beneath its charm of a colorful Mediterranean-like seaside village. From the 15th to the 19th century it was one of the slave-trading outposts on Africa’s west coast. The island was ruled in succession by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French and participated in the trans-Atlantic slave trade for over three centuries until the mid-1840s, although academics differ on how many slaves actually passed through there.

Regardless of such debates, though, today the island remains a haunting place and a powerful symbol of humanity’s transgressions and, ultimately, redemption. President Obama visited with his wife and daughters last June. Moved Michelle Obama – whose ancestors were brought to America as slaves – penned an emotional essay based on her experience in Gorée. She wrote: Read the rest of this entry

Tunisie, je t’aime!

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Medieval streets of Sousse

Tunisia will always hold a special place in my heart for a simple reason: that’s where I went for my honeymoon. I got married in Poland and we were looking for a place that would be a great vacation spot (i.e. sea warmer than the Baltic), have historical and cultural depth to it (i.e. no Disneyland), and let us fly there in under 3 hours. Sousse – or Sūsa in Arabic – a gorgeous city 140 km south of Tunis met all the criteria.

Geography is a weird thing. In my mind North Africa is a different, exotic place. But Tunisia almost touches the tip of Sicily and, not surprisingly given this close proximity, its history is tightly intertwined with that of Europe. Tunisia was founded in the 11th century B.C. as a Phoenician port of Hadrumetum, then for centuries was a part of the Roman Empire, a Byzantine city of Justinianopolis, and finally in the 7th century A.D. conquered by the Arabs who gave the city its current character. Its medieval heart, medina, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with truly unique architecture and atmosphere. Narrow streets meander through spice-scented souks and countless shops, sumptuous aromas ooze out of hole-in-the-wall eateries, and street vendors call out their offers. To my great surprise they address me in Polish! I guess there have been so many Polish tourists in Tunisia in the last few years that it pays to learn how to haggle in the client’s language – and clearly I look the type. Read the rest of this entry