It is simply not true that this structure is 'Europe's first slave market', although that fact is often firmly stated.
The Romans were importing slaves from Africa (and elsewhere) and selling them on slave markets in e.g Rome, over 1000 years before Lagos' market was built in 1444.
It may be true that this is the first 'purpose-built' slave market (though I doubt it...the Romans were very efficient town planners) but I suspect it is just the first known slave market built during the Medieval period.
The little that remains of the original market (just a few pillars and Romanesque arches) can be seen on Praca do Infante. In the very late 1600s an upper floor was constructed to serve, at various times, as an inspector's office, a guard house and military prison and Customs Office.
During 2009, archaeological excavations outside Lagos' city walls uncovered a large Medieval dump which included 155 skeletons of African origin......men, women and children. The oldest of these skeletons was dated to the 1400s. You can see the remnants of that excavation site just outside the Ponta da Piedade, where a modern car park now stands. It was the building of that car park which led to the site being excavated. As far as I know the planned memorial to the slaves thrown onto the waste tip has not yet been created.*
Lagos holds the dubious claim to fame of being home to Europe’s first slave market. It was built in 1444 and here slaves captured in Africa were brought to be sold and dispersed across the continent. An eye-witness to one of the first slave auctions held here in 1445 described it as a "terrible scene of misery and disorder", and no doubt these walls saw very many such scenes. By 1455, 800 Africans were being transported to Portugal annually and many came through Lagos, although by 1470 the centre of the Portuguese trade in slaves had moved to Lisbon. Many Portuguese built their fortunes on this trade and Prince Henry the Navigator, as sponsor of the slave-capturing expeditions, received one fifth of their selling price. At the height of the trade demand was so high that the profit on Mauritanian slaves was 700 percent. We are not talking here about the infamous Transatlantic slave trade but the less well-documented European one, with slaves being extensively used in domestic service here in Portugal, or sold on to other countries such as Spain and Italy. At one point up to 10,000 slaves were being shipped from Africa every year just to meet Portuguese demand alone. A big deal is made in Portugal, rightly, about their contribution to European exploration and discovery, but this darker side to their sea-faring exploits is perhaps less well-known, so it’s important that this place still stands to remind us of it.
The slave house was remodelled in 1691 and much of what we see today dates from that period. It has a deep porch with arches on two sides and an inscription on the third (photo three) for which I haven’t been able to find a translation. Apparently there is often an art exhibition inside, although I have also read elsewhere that it serves as a small museum about the slave trade. I wasn’t able to confirm which of these is the case however, as it was closed for restoration when we were there.
Next tip: Prince Henry the Navigator
One of the darker periods in Lagos’ history is the time when in the 15th century the town sported a market at which slaves, imported from North Africa, were sold on a market. The first African slaves entered post-medieval Europe through this small building that dates back to 1444 although most of it dates to 1691 by request of the 2nd Marquis of Niza, D. Francisco Luis da Gama, who built the Guards Mess over the building where the slaves used to be sold.
The main facade is divided into two parts, with a wide porch and double arches. On the ground floor a large room has been converted into an art gallery. The second floor was used as the Lagos Customs office until 1820. Over the years it has been used for different purposes such as an Inspection Office.
When Portugal started to explore the coast of Africa they first imported a few africans as they wanted tö educate them as translators and then take them back to further explorations of the african continent.
They were very short of labour at that time though as many young men were out colonising the world and they soon turned many of the africasn in to slaves and the first place in Europe where slaves were traded was in Lagos where you still have the market building standing as a reminder of this sad part of portugese history.
It´s a rather small building that is sometimes used for exhebitions of local art, but most of the times it is standing empty, but it´s worth checking out simply because of the history it carries.
In one corner of The Praca da Republica, under the arches of the old customs house is what was Europes first Slave Market. (mercado de escravos). The market opened in 1444 and it is said that within a hundred years up to 10,000 slaves were being shipped from Africa every year just to meet Portugusese demand alone. the customs House now serves as an art Gallery.
This coat with the Portuguese royal arms is on the façade of the first slave market in Portugal. Although we had the first slave market in Europe we were also one of the first to abolish slavery in all world.
This building located on Rua da Senhora da Graça was the first slave market in Europe. The first slaves were brought to Portugal from the Sahara in 1441 by Henry's explorer Nuno Tristão.
It was from Lagos that Prince Henry the Navigator, sponsored missions of exploration along the West Coast of Africa. This resulted in the opening of the sea route from Europe to India and the subsequent development of the empires of not only Portugal, but also the Netherlands, United Kingdom, France, Spain and Belgium.
So Lagos came to be the major port from which explorers set out to discover lands in Africa and Asia and build the trade routes that made Portugal rich. Many seamen on the voyages of exploration originated from Lagos, which resultantly turned it into a commercial and naval port of consequence. It was from Lagos that the caravels, developed by Portuguese shipwrights, sailed to encounter new worlds in Africa and America and subsequently brought back gold, ivory and, sadly, slaves, all of which greatly contributed to the wealth of both the city and nation.
At that time in history, no trade was richer than that of trade in slaves and the first slave market opened in Europe to accommodate this trade still stands here in central Lagos.
Situated on the Praca do Infante Dom Henrique in Lagos, the building with four arches, shown in the picture, was the site where the first slaves brought from Africa were sold beginning in 1444 AD. On the walls, one can see a stone bearing the coat of arms of the Marques de Nisa, dating from the 17th Century, and on one wall a window dating from the 15th Century, which originally was a door.
Today this building has a much nobler use as it is now used as an art gallery where local artists exhibit their works.
Slave House was the first market built in Europe (in the year 1444). The entrance fee was very cheap and inside there were artifacts and information regarding that inhumane traffic.