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Forts and Castles of Ghanapdf print preview print preview
24/03/2007Page 1 of 1


Saturday, March 24, 2007.

Forts and Castles of Ghana

What you must know


ALL over Ghana, vestiges of the past remain to discover, Relics, Historic sites, National Monuments, and of course, our Castles and Forts.

The forts and castles along the coast of Ghana date back to the 15th Century and were built and occupied at different times by European traders and adventurers from Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany and Britain to safe-guard trading posts.

Several of the forts and castles changed hands on numerous occasions in bloody battles or by treaty, and all have a fascinating history.

In Castles and Forts of Ghana, Prof. Kwesi J. Anquandah states that, ‘For several centuries, European masters and native African servants lived and worked in them.  The warehouses teemed with gold and ivory export products as well as African slaves destined for auction in the New World, there to become ancestors to future generations of black populations.

‘Indeed, these historic buildings were no respecter of persons and extraordinary history was made once when one castle, Elmina, held prisoner an Asante King in all his splendour during the first stage of his forced exile from Ghana’.

It is estimated that there are about 32 forts and castles in Ghana.  Today, some have been restored and have a variety of uses while some are in ruins.  Most are open to the public.  Recognising their unique place in world history, the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO has designated Ghana’s Castles and Forts as World Heritage Monuments.

 Elmina Castle

 Just 10 km. west of Cape Coast is the township of Elmina, the first point of contact between the Europeans and the inhabitants of Ghana.  A visit to Elmina Castle is both memorable and moving, for within these walls significant events took place which contributed to the shaping of the history of the world.

In 1471, a Portuguese expedition arrived, led by Don Diego d’ Azambuja.  Because of the vast amount of gold and ivory, they found here, they called the area “Mina de Ouro” – the gold mine.

Elmina soon became the centre of a thriving trade in gold, ivory and slaves, which were exchanged for cloth, beads brass bracelets and other goods brought by the Portuguese.

In 1482, the Portuguese built St. George’s Castle (Elmina Castle).  This vast rectangular 97,000 square feet fortification is the earliest known European structure in the tropics.

According to Prof. Kwesi J. Anquandah’s book, lifestyle and general organization in the fort could be likened to the situation on a ship and were sometimes described as ‘ships at permanent anchor’.

“The daily administration in the fort was in the hands of the Director-General who was assisted by a Council, a Chief Merchant, a Bookkeeper, a Works Superintendent, a Chaplain, a Physician and School Teacher”.

There were also merchants, nurses, cooks, tailors, masons, carpenters and garrison members.  African servants were reported to be employed in domestic services at the fort, in ship loading and offloading, as interpreters, artisans and canoe men among others.

As the immensely profitable trade in gold and slaves at Elmina increased, it began to attract the attention of other European nations, and a struggle for control of the Castle ensued.  Finally, in 1637, after two previously unsuccessful attempts, the Dutch captured Elmina Castle and remained in control for the next 274 years.

 Facts to remember

Portuguese reached Elmina (Del Mina) in 1471.  Built by Portuguese, in 1482.  First European fort on the Gold coast, improved before 1500.  Temporary French occupation in 1582.  Exterior rebuilt between 1580 and 1589.  Dutch attempt to capture the castle failed in 1625.

Taken by the Dutch, in 1637, and thereafter remained their headquarters on the Gold Coast.  Internal rebuilding done.  Besieged twice and assaulted by local people in 1680 – 1681.  Bombarded by the English in 1781.  Ceded to Britain, in 1872.

Since then the Elmina Castle has served several purposes – It housed the Ghana Police Recruit Training Centre for many years and in 1972 the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board took over and was included by UNESCO on the world Heritage list.

ELMINA – Fort St. Jago (Coenraadsburg) Chapel built between 1555 and 1558 by the Portuguese after the Paramount Chief of the Efutu Kingdom was converted.  The site was dedicated to Jago, the Portuguese saint.

Fort St. Jago is within walking distance of Elmina Castle.  It is from this vantage point that the Dutch launched their successful land attack on Elmina Castle.

Unlike other area forts, St. Jago was not used for trading activities.  Its primary purpose was to provide military protection to the Castle and to serve as a disciplinary institution for European convicts and malcontents.

Hill taken by the Dutch and converted into a lodge built in 1637.  Built into a fort in 1652 – 1662 by the Dutch when they took Elmina Castle, Enlarged in 1671.  Besieged by the local people for ten months in 1681.  Attacked by the English in 1781, ceded to Britain, in 1872.  Restored in 1956 – 1960.

 Cape Coast Castle

Most historians believe that Cape Coast Castle was originally built as a small trading lodge which was subsequently added to and enlarged until it became a fortification.  In 1637 the lodge was occupied by the Dutch.

Then, in 1652, it was captured by the Swedes, who named it Fort Carolusburg.  For a time, both the local people and various European powers fought for and gained possession of the fort.  Finally, in 1664, after a four-day battle, the-fort was captured by the British and re-named Cape Coast Castle.

The Castle served as the seat of the British Administration in the then Gold Coast (Ghana) until the administration was moved to Christiansborg Castle in Accra on March 19, 1877.

Like most ancient fortifications in Ghana, Cape Coast Castle played a significant role in the gold and slave trades.  It is estimated that by 1700, the Royal African Company, which had been granted a new charter by English King Charles II for developing Guinea trade, was exporting about 70,000 slaves per annum to the New World.

Also, as a result of the European influence here, two significant contributions were made that are still evident today.  The arrival of Christianity in the country, and the establishment of the first Formal Education System through Castle Schools.  Cape Coast, Elmina and Christiansborg Castles were the pioneering centres for western education in modern Ghana.

 West African Historical Museum

 The Museum is located inside Cape Coast Castle and contains a growing collection of art and cultural objects from various parts of West African, for example ceremonial drums, old muskets, shackles from the slave trade and ancient pottery.

 Competition for control

Built as a lodge by the Dutch in 1630 on an abandoned lodge built earlier by the Portuguese.  Abandoned by the Dutch and occupied by Swedes, it was an English trading post by 1649.  Swedes began to build the castle (Carolsburg) in 1652, taken over by the Danes in 1657.  Occupied by “Dey” of  Fetu between 1660 and 1663.

Re-occupied by Swedes in 1663; in Dutch hands by 1664–1665.  Captured by the English in 1665 and remained their headquarters on the coast until 1877.  Strengthened and greatly enlarged by French in 1703 and 1757.  Extensively rebuilt before 1757 – 1780.



THE MIRROR -           Saturday, March 24, 2007.                  Page:  17

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