The Gambia is a republic located on the west coast of Africa. The country is bordered by Senegal along its entire length, adjacent to the Gambia River, with access to the Atlantic Ocean at its western end. Earliest written accounts of the Gambia region date from the 9th century AD by Arab traders, describing the wealth of the Mali Empire and its Mandinka rulers. By the 16th century the area was controlled by the Songhai Empire, but was eventually conquered and claimed by Portugal. The Portuguese granted exclusive trading rights to British merchants in 1588. Courland established a trading post on James Island in 1651, until 1661 when the Gambia region was annexed by the British. In 1889, the Gambia formerly became a British Crown Colony, and was granted independence in 1965. Following a referendum in 1970, it abolished its monarchy and became a republic. The capital and major port is Banjul, with the the two largest cities being Serekunda and Brikama. Estimated population of the Gambia in 2009 was 1,782,893.