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VISITING  ST. GEORGE’S (OR ELMINA) CASTLE

When the Europeans arrived in the 15th century, they built forts and castles along the coast of West Africa. Over 60 of such historical forts were built along the 500km stretch of the shoreline of  the then Gold Coast,  which is now  present-day Ghana. At the moment, 17 of them are still standing with three castles: St. George’s or Elmina Castle, Cape Coast Castle and Christiansburg or Osu Castle in Accra,  now the seat of the Government of Ghana.
Just 8km west of Cape Coast,  the township of Elmina became the first point of contact between the Europeans and the people of Ghana. A visit to Elmina Castle is memorable and moving, for within these walls significant events took place that actually shaped the history of the world.
In 1471, a Portuguese expedition arrived under the leadership of Don Diego d’Azanbuja. As vast amounts of gold were found here, the Portuguese called this area ”Mina de Ouro” which means the  gold mine, and which later became Elmina.
Within no time, Elmina became the centre of the thriving trade in gold, ivory and slaves which were exchanged for European goods like textiles, beads, brass, alcohol, tobacco, guns and gun powder.
In 1482, the Portuguese built St. George’s (Elmina) Castle, and used the rooms on the ground floor as their warehouses. But when the slave trade started in  the 16th century the warehouses were converted into dungeons to keep the slaves captive while they waited for their transport overseas.
As the profitable trade in gold, ivory and slaves increased, it started attracting the attention of other European nations, and a struggle for control of  the castle ensued.
Finally, in 1637, after two unsuccessful attempts, in 1596 and 1625,  Elmina Castle was captured and remained under the control of the Dutch for the next 253 years. In 1781, the British attempted to take Elmina Castle, but failed. However in 1872 the Dutch ceded the castle to the British through negotiations. The British came to Elmina Castle when the slave trade was over, but that does not mean the British did not trade in slaves. They did -  but they used Cape Coast Castle.
In World War II, 1939-45, the Royal West Africa Frontier Force was trained in Elmina Castle by the British, and sent to fight in Burma and India. Then, after the war,  in 1948 ,this same castle was turned into a  police training school still under British rule.
St. George’s or Elmina Castle, this vast rectangular 97,000sq. ft. fortification, was the first substantial European building  to be built not only in Ghana, but in the whole of tropical Africa, south of the Sahara.
Elmina Castle, Cape Coast Castle and Fort St. Jago have been designated World Heritage Monuments by the UNESCO World Heritage Foundation.

CAPE COAST CASTLE

The castle needs about three hours’ exploration, if you want to see it properly.  Visitors must pay at the entrance to see the castle. You can have self-guided tours with a useful pamphlet provided when  available. For a fee photographs may be taken.

It is widely accepted that the modern Cape Coast Castle stands on the site of the Swedish Fort Carolusbourg, built from wood in 1653 and fortified with stone the following  year. The British captured it in 1665 and expanded it. For all the horrors that have taken place within its dungeons, what impresses most is the building in its architectural scale.
There are three dungeons in all. The oldest was built before 1790 in the south-eastern part of the castle. The dungeon for male slaves was built in Dalzel’s Tower in 1792, while the female dungeons are on the eastern wall near the exit to the sea that bore the grim nickname ‘Door of no Return’.
Reverend Philip Quarcoe (1741-1861) is buried in the courtyard, a native of Cape Coast who became the first Anglican priest of African origin  . Also buried there are the novelist Leticia Elizabeth London (1802-1838) and her husband, as well as George MacLean (1801-1847), Governor of Cape Coast from 1830 until 1843 and Judicial Assessor of the town from 1843 until his death.

The museum helps place things in perspective. It gives you a sequence of displays charting origin and mechanism of the slave trade, the scale of the resultant diasporas, and the aftermath in the hands of inspirational black leaders such as Macus Garvey and Martin Luther King. It is advisable to take a guided tour to help interpret what you see. In the dungeon you will see the stone walls still marked by the desperate scratchings of those imprisoned within them.