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Dakar is located on the Cape Verde Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean. It grew out of a Lebou village that was situated there when the first catholic mission was established in 1846. Dakar city has a population of over 1,000,000. It is the busiest port in West Africa, serving Senegal, Mali and Mauritania, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d'Ivoire, and Guinea-Conakry, and has modern facilities for handling and storing goods.

The city hosts many international conferences on artistic and scholarly topics. Dakar's Yoff International Airport is the main stopping point for flights from Europe to South America. Dakar is one of the African Union's main administrative, communications, and economic centers. It is the headquarters of the Pan African News Agency, as well as the United Nations Information Centres and Services located in the UNESCO building on Leopold S. Senghor Avenue. Important industries in Dakar include refined sugar, peanut oil, fertilizers, cement, textiles, flour milling, oil refining, and fish canning.

Dakar's importance increased significantly after 1855, when a railroad linked it with the Senegal River. Dakar grew up around a French fort built in 1857. After the army, previously stationed in Gorée was transferred to Dakar, the city experienced a slow development under Colonel Pinet-Laprade who laid out the outline drawings of a city in 1862, with right angled streets on either side of the present Independence Square. The first major pier was completed in 1866. After 1866, Brazilian ships benefited from the installations and facilities of the harbour for the first time. In 1887 it was made a commune, along with Gorée, Rufisque, and Saint-Louis.

Dakar replaced Saint-Louis as the capital of French West Africa in 1902. In 1923 a new railroad linked Dakar with interior peanut-growing areas and the Niger River. In 1940, Free French forces under Gen. Charles de Gaulle fought unsuccessfully to free Dakar from Vichy control, but in late 1942 U.S. forces occupied the city and stayed to the end of World War II.

The University of Dakar (1949), the National School of Administration, a school for librarians, and a UN-administered Institute of Economic Development and Planning are in the city. It is also the site of the famous Institut Fondamental d'Afrique Noire, which promotes scholarly research in many fields. Dakar was also the capital of the short-lived (1959-60) Mali Federation. Since 1945, the city has expanded greatly. It has sandy beaches and a zoological and forest park. Dakar's Roman Catholic cathedral (inaugurated 1929) is the seat of an archbishop.