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Castles and Forts

Overview of Forts and Castles

Ghana's castles and forts offer concrete testimony to the drama of human history and stad as witness to one of the world's most tradic events - the Slave Trade.

Cape Coast Castle has seen the passage of numerous foreign powers. Initially constructed as a small trading lodge in the 16th century, the building was subsequently altered and enlarged becoming a substantial fort by 1627. It was later captured by the Swedes and named Fort Carolusberg, finally becoming a British possession in 1664. Cape Coast Castle, through which millions of slaves were shipped to the Caribbean and the United States, became the seat of British colonial administration until 1877 when government offices moved to Christiansborg Castle in Accra.

The cannons still face seaward, stirring the imagination to scenes of exploration, discover and great tragedy. The Museum of West African History, currently under development in cooperation with the Smithsonian Institution of the United States, brings into sharp focus the role that these great structures played in the meeting of two cultures. As you wander the ramparts of Cape Coast Castle in the salt air, the view is a visual feast. Traditional customs - the mending of nets and launching of painted fishing canoes, contineu side-by-side with the new - impromptu soccer games and the hustle and bustle of business. Cape Coast Castle is alive with the human spirit.

Ten kilometers west on a promontory visible from a great distance, Elmina Castle is the earliest known European structure in the tropics. Built in 1482 by the Portugauese during early world exploration, the castle was taken over by the Dutch in 1637, who retained control for 274 years. Inside the vast fortification is the location of the first Catholic church in Sub-Sahara Africa. The Castle's damp, unlit dungeons served as horrific holding areas for the human cargo of the infamous slave trade.

For St. Jago is within walking distance. It is from this vantage point that the Dutch launched their successful land attack on Elmina Castle. Unlike other forts in the area, Fort St. Jago was not used for trading activities. Its primary purpose was to provide military protection to Elmina Castle. Be sure to bring your camera. The hill on which Ft. St. Jago stands provides an excellent view of Elmina Castle, the Atlantic Ocean, and the buzz of commercial activity at the Elmina fishing harbor.

Guided tours of Cape Coast and Elmina Castles are available. Cultural and theatrical performances are often staged here. Prominent among these are the re-enactment of the horrors of the slave trade as well as a solemn, touching portrayal of the final journey of the Africans as they walked through the hellish dungeons into the awaiting ships that transported them to the Americas.