Site and Significance
The First Western-Style University in Sub-Saharan Africa
Old Fourah Bay College once stood at the center of an idealistic endeavor to create a new and just society out of the awful destruction wrought by the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. Established in 1827, it was the first university of Western education in sub-Saharan Africa. For a century, Old Fourah Bay College was a laboratory for experimenting with the transfer of western ideas of governance, religion, political organization, and public service bureaucracy.
But when civil war engulfed Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002, people displaced by fighting flooded into Freetown, the country's capital, looking for shelter and safety, and Old Fourah Bay College was taken over by many families of internally displaced people. During the conflict, the Rebel United Front (RUF), which was one of the most brutal rebel groups fighting the government and peacekeeping forces, laid siege to Freetown, eventually occupying the eastern part of the city where Old Fourah Bay College is located.
An Urgent Need for Intervention
In 1999, shortly after the siege, a catastrophic fire broke out at the building consuming the roof and wooden floors. Miraculously, the main masonry superstructure survived and remains standing today, but without urgent conservation, its survival is severely threatened.
2006 World Monuments Watch
World Monuments Fund (WMF) placed Old Fourah Bay College on the World Monuments Watch in 2006 to bring international attention to the surviving cultural heritage of a country devastated by war and poverty. Old Fourah Bay College is a symbol of emancipation and a monument of immense importance, not only in the history of Sierra Leone, but for the region.
The Future of Old Fourah Bay College
In 2021, WMF embarked on a project to carry out emergency stabilization of Old Fourah Bay College and to implement a planning and design process for the structure's eventual rehabilitation. The goals of the complete three-phase project are to save an iconic monument in West Africa and develop a plan for its reuse as a museum and cultural hub in close collaboration with the community, thereby creating an educational facility and visitor destination that further stimulates the nascent tourism industry, creates economic opportunities, revitalizes a historically important but badly neglected district of Freetown, and helps to build a stable and prosperous society.
WMF will lead the vital first phase to secure the building from collapse, engage the community and stakeholders in imagining a future for the structure, and provide a framework for phased implementation of conservation and redevelopment of the site and its surroundings.
The second and third phases of the project will build on the achievements of the first phase: the second phase will focus on conservation of the historic fabric, structural repairs, and installation of new building elements with the objective of making the building a functional facility at which cultural and other activities can begin to take place, and the third phase will involve installation and commissioning of the museum at the site and development of a cultural facility in the historic heart of Freetown.
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
Sign up for our newsletter to receive regular updates on our projects, stories from the field, upcoming events, and more!
This project has been supported, in part, by the U.S. Department of State through the Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.