City (pop. 2004 est.: 234,300), seaport, and capital of Benin, on the Gulf of Guinea, western Africa. Situated on a coastal lagoon in the southeastern part of the country, it was probably founded in the late 16th century as the centre of the kingdom of Porto-Novo. The Portuguese established a trading post in the 17th century, and it became a centre of the Atlantic slave trade. It became a short-lived French protectorate in 1863 and attained that status again in 1882. The ruins of old African palaces remain, and there are many colonial-style buildings, including the old Portuguese cathedral. Porto-Novo was established as the official capital of the country by the constitution, but only the legislature is found there; the president, most government ministers, and the judiciary reside in Cotonou.
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