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Elmina Castle was erected by the Portuguese in 1482 as Castelo de São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine Castle), also known as Castelo da Mina or simply Mina (or Feitoria da Mina), in present-day Elmina, Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast). It was the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea, and the oldest European building in existence south of the Sahara.
First established as a trade settlement, the castle later became one of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic slave trade. The Dutch seized the fort from the Portuguese in 1637, after an unsuccessful attempt in 1596, and took over all of the Portuguese Gold Coast in 1642. The slave trade continued under the Dutch until 1814. In 1872, the Dutch Gold Coast, including the fort, became a possession of Great Britain.
The Gold Coast, which is now Ghana, gained its independence in 1957 from Britain, and had control of the castle. Elmina Castle is a historical site, and was a major filming location for Werner Herzog’s 1987 drama film Cobra Verde. The castle is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is also a major tourists attraction in the central region of Ghana.
Central Elmina today is an historic place. Dominated by the massive Elmina Castle, the central town is also home to the smaller, hilltop Fort San Jago, a number of impressive Posuban shrines and a busy fishing lagoon. This is a location with a lot of attractions that will keep you busy experiencing the history, culture and life of Ghana. Separate walking tours of Elmina are available and are very well received by our guests.
Posuban shrines are found in the coastal areas of the Fante people. These shrines can be anything from simple statues to elaborate concrete structures with life-size figures, fantasy creatures and other strange objects. Long ago these were the posts for local Asafo companies, or tribal militias. Now decommissioned as military units, the Asafo remains as a social and political organization that is responsible for maintaining these shrines and arranging annual Asafo festivals.
There are 5 large Posuban shrines along a road that curves through central Elmina. All are quite interesting, but be aware that a contribution must be made at each shine that you wish to take photos.
Fort San Jago
Ft. San Jago was established by the Dutch in 1665 on St. George Hill, with a commanding view of St. George Castle below. It is from this vantage point the Dutch launched their successful land attack on Elmina Castle in 1637. The fort was built primarily to provide military protection to the Elmina Castle and to serve as a disciplinary institution for European convicts.
This fort is accessed by climbing a majestic staircase up St. George Hill to the summit, where Ft. San Jago sits. The fort itself is an interesting visit, but it is the view from the summit that really makes the climb worth the effort. You are rewarded with an exciting view of bustling Elmina and the sea beyond.
Just outside St. George Castle is the Benya lagoon, an amazingly busy fishing harbour, full of colorful traditional fishing boats called pirogues. Fishermen are tending nets, going and coming to sea, and selling their catch in the busy harbour fish market. Fishmongers are everywhere and their offerings in full view. This site offers one of Ghana’s greatest photo opportunities.
Elmina offers some of the most beautiful beaches in Ghana. While not as secluded as beaches further to the west; there are clean palm-lined beach here for you to relax and enjoy. There are beach resorts of varying class along this stretch of coast and we are certain you would enjoy a night or two with the sea breeze and star-filled nights.
What else is nearby
There are numerous attractions nearby. You can visit the Cape Coast Castle, which is about 20 minutes east towards Accra. Cape Coast Castle was settled by the British; so the architecture is a bit different; but the experience you will have is nearly identical to the tour at Elmina Castle.
Also nearby is Kakum National Park, famous for birding and the home of West Africa‘s highest rain forest canopy walkway. While at Kakum, it is easy to visit crocodile ponds or a stingless bee facility.
The Elmina-Java museum is another place of note. This is a museum that is dedicated to telling the story of African soldiers who fought in the Royal Netherlands East Indies army.
The castle was extensively restored by the Ghanaian government in the 1990s. Renovation of the castle continues. Today, Elmina’s economy is sustained by tourism and fishing. Elmina Castle is preserved as a Ghanaian national museum and the monument was designated as a World Heritage Monument under UNESCO in 1979.
It is a place of pilgrimage for many African Americans seeking to connect with their long-lost heritage. Renovating the bridge leading into the castle was one of the highest priority tasks in the project. As of August 2006, the bridge renovation has been completed and construction on the upper terraces continues.
Where It’s At
Elmina is located along the southern Cape Coast region of Ghana, west of Accra. The town itself is primarily a fishing port, with a bustling commercial scene and lively atmosphere. Famous on account of the colonial fort built here in 1482 by the Portuguese, the small fishing village of Elmina is a picturesque stop-off along Cape Coast steeped in history.
This area became heavily competed for in terms of its strategic position for trade, by other European powers. As the plantations in America took off, the trade in slaves expanded, and Elmina became the last place many thousands of Africans would see of their homeland, for many it would also be the last place they would see altogether, due to the high death rates incurred during the middle passage in such abominable conditions.
At the height of the trade, 30,000 slaves were passing through Elmina each year on their way to the Americas. This continued for nearly 300 hundred years in appalling conditions. There were many horrors witnessed here, as it is where the slaves were detained and tortured before being shipped to the ‘New World’.
History of Elmina Castle
The Portuguese built the castle of St George El Mina in 1482, in a region rich in gold and ivory resources. Elmina Castle is one of West Africa’s oldest standing buildings; it means ‘the mine’ in Portuguese. It was also the first permanent structure south of the Sahara built by the Europeans. The dungeons are the most poignant a reminder of those dark times.
The castle served as an outpost for the Portuguese to trade their goods for slaves, many thousands being kept in the dark, damp dungeons. It was also heavily guarded against attacks by other European empires that were keen on gaining its strategic position, yet not so heavily guarded against less likely inland attacks by the Africans.
The cannons are still in evidence from the conflicting time. The Dutch captured the castle in the mid sixteen hundreds after previous unsuccessful attempts, and other nations that fought to control it include the English.
The castle was originally a trading post for the countries gold, ivory and timber, this later developed into a point on the infamous slave triangle transporting human cargo to America and the Caribbean, raw materials such as cotton and rubber to Britain and manufactured goods such as clothing and weaponry back to the West Coast of Africa.
Visiting Elmina Today
You can tour the castle with a guide for C/3000 (US$0.40), and don’t forget your camera as the views here are terrific. If you fancy strolling around at your own pace, entrance to Elmina Castle costs C/1000. Opposite you can visit Fort St Jago, the primary defence for the castle against it’s many invasions, and it has now been converted into a guesthouse providing visitors with accommodation. The entrance and tour prices are the same as for the castle.
Where To Stay
If you don’t fancy staying in the renovated fort, your other options for accommodation include Nyansapow Hotel for under US$7.50 or the Oyster Bay Hotel for under US$15.
Other Things to See and Do
The famous festival in Elmina, Bakatue, takes place on the first Tuesday in July. The literal meaning of the festival is the opening of the Benya lagoon into the sea, symbolically it celebrates the beginning of the fishing season, marked by a parade of the towns chiefs in their full regalia, followed by singers, dancers and stilt walkers.