Then and now, the West Africa World Heritage region has played a dynamic role in trade within the continent and overseas. Long before medieval Europeans conquered the coastal territories of West Africa, the region was the primary trader of gold, ivory and slaves that were exchanged for salt, silk, beads and metal goods in North Africa, the Mediterranean, India and China. The Trans-Saharan Trading route flourished and thrived for several centuries and brought Islam to the far-off villages of the West which were strategic stops of traveling caravans. By the 14th century, Europeans colonized the coastal area of West Africa and established forts and fortified trading posts that were beneficial for their trade overseas.
West Africa World Heritage sites are the contrast of medieval European ports and remote mud-built villages set against a backdrop of transitioning landscapes from semi-arid desert to grass savannas and patches of tropical rainforest.