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Forts and Castles Gold Coast

"Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions" is the collective designation of Western-style fortifications and outposts (mostly Portuguese, Dutch and British) along the Gold Coast during the colonial period.

They were constructed as posts for the trade in gold and later slaves.

The term specifically applies to 11 ensembles designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979:

- Elmina Castle, Elmina

- Fort Saint Antony, Axim

- English Fort (Fort Vrendenburg), Komenda

- Fort Metal Cross, Dixcove

- Fort San Sebastian, Shama

- Fort Batenstein, Butri

- Fort St. Jago (Fort Conraadsburg), Elmina

- Fort Amsterdam, Abandze

- Fort Patience (Fort Leysaemhyt), Apam

- Cape Coast Castle, Cape Coast

- Fort Good Hope (Fort Goedehoop), Senya Beraku

Map

Visit February 2010

Two of the castles/forts that are designated as WHS are located in Elmina. In fact, those two phenomenal historical buildings still dominate this small fishing town. I started out with a tour at St. George's Castle (Elmina Castle) - the oldest European castle (and according to some sources even the oldest European remains) in Africa below the Sahara. There were about 8 foreigners in my tour group, more than I had met so far in the rest of Ghana: these castles obviously are the closest thing Ghana has to a tourist attraction.

Right after entering the castle, I was amazed how pretty it is. I somehow had expected a gloomy atmosphere in a half-derelict castle. But this one is freshly whitewashed, very large and holds several buildings within the main compound. The governor slept well in his spacious residence. At the center of the main courtyard there is a Portuguese church. The ugliness starts underground, with the dungeons where the slaves were being kept until they were put on transport to the Americas.

From St. George's one gets good views at Fort St. Jago, on a hill in Elmina. From that spot the Dutch raided the former Danish castle in 1637, and were able to keep it for 234 years. It's a steep walk to get up there, one that I did forsake because of the extremely hot sun.

About 15 minutes drive eastwards along the coast lies Cape Coast Castle. This one has been British for most of its history. Like St. George's in Elmina, this is also an extensive and intact complex. Here even more slaves were held, there was room for 1000 men. Via an underground tunnel they were lead to a door (the "Door of No Return"), where at the other side a ship would be ready to take them overseas. The conditions under which they where held in the castle were really excruciating: 200 men a room, little fresh air, damp and dark.

To summarize my visit, I would say that I was happily surprised about the size and condition of the castles. They seem to be visited by a number of foreign tourists and also by busloads of schoolchildren. I did find the tours conducted at both castles a bit uninspired though.

P.S.: I even had to fill in a WHS questionnaire! A guy at Cape Coast Castle was interviewing visitors, and his questions focussed on the castle's WHS status (Have you visited more WHS in Ghana? Can you name them? Have you visited WHS elsewhere in the world? etc). The reason behind this research is to find out what more can be done to keep the castles in good shape.

Community Reviews


Jorge Daniel Magaña García - October 2013

I went to the castles at Elmina and Cape Coast, both which to me are integral testimonies of Ghana's colonial history. The tour at Cape Coast castle enabled me to revive the impressive history of this castle and its influence on Ghana as a british enclave. Both castles are well kept and truly deserve a visit. Hopefully UNESCO along with the ghanian authorities are able to see further from the declaration and include the cities, particularly in the case of Elmina, which I think has potential to become a WHS. Serious work has to be done to preserve the cities and to establish efficient touristic infrastructure, which is lacking. It would be a shame if work is not done to the towns, because, just as the castles, I truly believe they bear testimony to european first interactions with Africa.


Solivagant - July 2011

In Nov 2010 we visited Cape Coast and Elmina castles (just 15 kms apart) and climbed up to, but didn’t enter, Fort St Jago which is also at Elmina. These are the most popular cultural tourist sites in the country and a tourist visit to Ghana without seeing at least one of them is unthinkable.

Both castles are impressive buildings and are wonderfully situated right on a coastline of fine beaches next to fishing harbours and markets which extend right up to the castle walls. Their colourful activity is an interesting part of a visit. The blue of the sea, the gold of the sands, the greens of the palm trees, the white of the castles and the multi-coloured boats will lead you to use up a fair chunk of your digital photo card!

The buildings are of course indelibly associated with the Atlantic slave trade and, for many people that will be the main focus of a visit. The dungeons are certainly impressive in their size and, if you are so inspired, a stimulant for introspection on the events which happened there.

Beyond them however the buildings are really rather attractive and belie that aspect of their history – both were restored in the 1990s. In the centre of Elmina is a Portuguese chapel dating back to 1482. It was later used as an auction hall for slaves but is now a little museum covering a wide range of historical aspects beyond “slavery”. Cape Coast castle was at one time the British seat of government and contains what seem more like “office” buildings. Indeed, apart from the rows of cannons, once one is inside it doesn’t give off a particularly “miltary air”. Apart from the dungeons it is primarily a late 18th century building

And if you only have time for one? A difficult call! I think I might actually go for Elmina. Although smaller and with “less impressive” dungeons it is in some ways the more significant historically. Also, as well as having 2 forts, the town is perhaps more interesting. But better to avoid the problem by taking in both – this is easy enough in a day!


Robert B. Houston, Jr.

I was posted at Accra in 1946-47 at the American Consulate, and took the occasion

to visit as many as I could of the old trading forts built by European companies

along the coast of the then British colony of the Gold Coast. This was long before

the World Heritage program started, but fortunately, the colonial administration

had taken steps to preserve most of the old forts. One served as the Residence of

the Governor of Cold Coast Colony, at least one was in use as a prison, some were

kept as museums, and many were preserved as temporary residences for travelling

colonial officials. No fees were charged for admission, but access was of course

controlled. I took photographs of most of the moe notable sites I visited, but

have not been back since I left the Gold Coast in December,1947. It is good that

the Government of independent Ghana has involved UNESCO in calling attention to

these historic buildings, built by companies from various countries and in cases

just outside of cannon shot range from a fort of another country.


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Site Info

Full name: Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions

Site History

  • 1979 - Inscribed

    Reasons for inscription
  •  
  • 1979 - Deferred

    Bureau - ICOMOS in favour but Bureau wants more info/maps etc
  •  

Locations

The site has 8 locations.

  • Elmina Castle (St. George's Castle/ Fort St. Jorge) Elmina (Central Region), Ghana
  • English Fort (Fort Vrendenburg) Komenda, Ghana
  • Fort Batenstein Butri (Western Region), Ghana
  • Fort Good Hope (Fort Goedehoop) Senya Beraku (Central Region), Ghana
  • Fort Metal Cross Dixcove (Western Region), Ghana
  • Fort Saint Antony Axim (Western Region), Ghana
  • Fort San Sebastian Shama (Western Region), Ghana
  • Fort St. Jago (Fort Conraadsburg) Elmina (Central Region), Ghana

Connections

The site has 20 connections.

Constructions

  • Sundial Horizontal sundial made by the Dutch in front of Elmina castle

Damaged

  • Bombarded by the British Navy the Royal Navy under Captain Thomas Shirley fired upon Dutch-occupied Fort St. Jago from the HMS Leander during the Battle of Elmina in 1782

Geography

History

  • Sieges and Battles Battle of Elmina 1625
  • Slavery The forts were used as depots in the slave trade
  • WIC Fort Elmina was captured from the Portuguese by the GWIC in 1637. Apart from short periods it and other forts remained under GWIC control until its disestablishment in 1791

Human Activity

Individual People

  • Christopher Columbus "In late 1481 or early 1482 Columbus sailed to the Portuguese fortress of Elmina, in what is now Ghana, on the western coast of Africa. Columbus was impressed with the riches Africa offered, especially gold. In addition, like all good navigators, he was eager to learn about winds and ocean currents from the local pilots and sailors. In the waters off the coast of Africa and the nearby Canary Islands Columbus first observed the ocean phenomenon known as the Canaries Current. Knowledge of this fast-moving current running west of the Canary Islands could well have been the reason that Columbus later chose to start his crossing of the Atlantic in the latitude of the Canaries, far south of Spain or Portugal.
  • Mapped or Illustrated by Blaeu Elmina
  • Sir Robert Holmes "On 10 April he (Robert Holmes) captured Anta Castle on the Gold Coast and several other small strongholds and ships. But the greatest coup was the capture of the principal Dutch base in West Africa, Cape Coast Castle near El Mina, on 1 May. (1664)" (Wiki)

Timeline

Trivia

  • Built or owned by British e.g Cape Coast castle was rebuilt by the British after capture from the Danes in 1664. in 1844 it became the seat of government for the British colony of the Gold Coast
  • Built or owned by Dutch Elmina Castle, English Fort (Fort Vrendenburg), Komenda Fort Amsterdam, Abandze Fort Patience (Fort Leysaemhyt), Apam Fort Good Hope (Fort Goedehoop), Senya Beraku Fort St. Jago (Fort Conraadsburg), Elmina, Fort Batenstein, (Butre) -converted to a fort from a Swedish settlement by the Dutch
  • Built or owned by Portuguese Axim Santo Antonio, Elmina Fort Sao Jorge
  • Built or owned by Swedes Cape Coast Castle (Carolusborg)
  • First inscriptions Ghana 1979
  • Located in a Former Capital In 1844,(Cape Castle)became the seat of the colonial Government of the British Gold Coast." "The Gold Coast Colony, established on July 24, 1874, comprised the coastal areas and extended inland as far as the ill-defined borders of Asante"..."Shortly after ... the British moved the colonial capital from Cape Coast to the former Danish castle at Christiansborg in Accra". (Wiki)

World Heritage Process

  • Inscribed on a single criterion only vi. to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria)
  • WHS inscribed solely on Criterion VI 1979