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In Porto-Novo’s Afro-Brazilian Architecture, Traces of Complex History

As with many cities with aging infrastructure, Benin’s Porto-Novo has been exploring plans to revitalize its historic architecture. This type of historic preservation is a tricky business, however, as the restoration of these buildings also showcases the colonialism and slavery that brought them into being. Each building – many of their facades worn and crumbling from neglect – is a window into the complex history of Benin, a West African country on the Gulf of Guinea, home to about 12 million people. Like many parts of coastal West Africa, modern Benin was forged by the violent globalization of the slave trade, which left profound cultural influences on both sides of the Atlantic. And in recent years, as the government and private groups have pushed to renovate the city, it’s put a spotlight on the area’s heritage – including difficult, often controversial chapters related to slavery and colonialism, imprinted on each Afro-Brazilian building.