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Benin has played a major role in the Slave trade in the 17-th and 18-th century. From that period you will find many monuments reminding the traveler of the tragic sort of those deported to the West Indies and Brazil.
After that the French have colonialized the country and the have left a profound mark on the country. It is in many aspects a very French country. Cotonou even has its own Boul' Mich and you will see Beninois walking there with a baguette under one arm and a French newspaper under the other.
From Cotonou it is 20 minutes to Porto Novo with its museums and royal palace. The slave port of Ouidah with many historical sites and museums is 40 Kms west of Cotonou. To Abomey, the ancient capital of Dahomey it is 100km north. All main roads are paved and in good condition.
Ganvie, "the Venice of Africa" a village build on stakes in the lake is a few kilometres north of Cotonou.