Elmina Castle | Ghana Travel Tips & Reviews | Africa Point
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Elmina Castle
Elmina Castle, Elmina, Ghana
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Elmina Castle

Snapshot

The heat and darkness are somewhat oppressive, but it is the all-pervasive aura of desperation that still hangs in the air after nearly four hundred years that will hit you when you enter the dungeons.  Hopelessness and resignation were the order of the day for the thousands of slaves who passed through this castle on their way to an unknown destiny.  Come and walk in their footsteps as you visit Elmina Castle.

 

Best Time to Visit

A quick taxi ride from Cape Coast Town will have you at Elmina.
 

How to Get There

The Castle is open to the public daily from 09.00 to 17.00.
Check out the full details below
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Haunting Elmina Castle

The Elmina Castle (also known as St. George’s Castle) that you see today stands quite regally overlooking the Elmina fishing harbour and was never intended to be anything other than a trading post. It was built by the Portuguese in 1482 and is the oldest remaining European building in sub-Saharan Africa, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is located along Ghana’s central coast and is one of more than 20 castles that became synonymous with the Slave Trade; soon after it’s capture by the Dutch in 1637, the Castle became one of the most important stops on the African Slave trade route, and millions of unfortunate souls caught their last glimpse of “home” when they passed through the notorious Door of no Return. Visiting the Castle is a chilling pilgrimage that every visitor to Ghana should undertake to get an insight of the extraordinary cruelties to which human beings can be driven by greed.

 

 

A Little History

Together with more than twenty other so-called Slave Castles, Elmina was used to process the millions of Africans who fell victim to the world’s largest forced migration of human beings – human trafficking on a grand scale.   Originally the Castle housed luxury suites for the Dutch traders, set above store rooms for gold, timber and gemstones.   As the demand for slaves increased the storerooms were converted to dungeons to house the unfortunate slaves for an average of two months before they would be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, South America and the Caribbean.  The conditions were horrendous and many succumbed to disease and death even before they reached the Door of no Return.  Hundreds of thousands of captives passed through Elmina Castle during the approximate 300 years that the illicit human trade was continued.

 

 

The Construction of Elmina Castle

The construction of the Castle in its original form was a considerable feat!  All the building materials, including heavy foundation stones and roof tiles where transported in a pre-fabricated state to the site from Portugal.  A large fleet of ships was required and they took a month to make the journey, bringing with them provisions for 600 labourers.  The Castle started quite modestly as a typical square structure with a round defensive tower at each corner, but was modified and enlarged many times – bastions were strengthened, courtyards and living quarters added.  In 1637 the Castle was captured by the Dutch.  By now the Slave trade was thriving and the original Portuguese church was changed into a trading area. In addition a Dutch chapel and the notorious Door of No Return were added.   The present structure, which is considerably larger than the original still features one of the round Portuguese towers and has been very well preserved.

 

 

The Dungeons, the Door of No Return and other Highlights

The Infamous Dungeons

Visiting the dungeons will have you poised on the edge of an emotional abyss; the dark and stiflingly hot dungeons were once home to up to 200 unfortunate souls who lived in abject misery – pressed up against each other without even room to lie down.  Sanitation was rudimentary and consisted of a channel in the ground running the length of the room, and ventilation was by way of a few holes in the roof.  It is a macabre place to visit, as you imagine what it must have been like to live like that for up to  two months.  Many visitors find the experience emotionally draining.

The Door of No Return was the inevitable end of the line for all the imprisoned slaves.  This is where they caught the last glimpse they would ever have of their homeland before being loaded onto the slave ships.  Today you can walk through this notorious door in both directions... the slaves were not so lucky!

 

The Well

The original design of the Castle included a system of drains and cisterns that would collect rainwater for drinking and other purposes.  In the courtyard is a well where the water was drawn – legend holds that many resisting slaves were drowned in this well.

 

The Ramparts of the Castle offer one of the best views of the lively and colourful Elmina fishermen’s harbour, as well as an aerial view of the extensive complex.

 

The Governors Quarters

The generous proportions of what used to be the Governors Quarters are in stark contrast to the cramped and filthy cells in which the slaves were housed, reinforcing one’s feelings of distaste.  In addition you will see the staircase leading directly to the cell that used to house the female slaves, making it easy for the governor and other senior officials and guests to select any of the women for their pleasure -  even children as young as 13 were considered suitable choices.

 

Other Attractions at Elmina Castle

St. George’s Castle Museum is situated within Elmina Castle and was established in 1996 in order to educate visitors on the history of the Castle and also to preserve the cultural heritage of Ghana’s Central Region.  Here you can get a better idea of how the Castle developed through the ages from some of the photographic images on display, as well as peruse various ancient artefacts which include shackles and other restrainers as well as less formidable relics such as ceramics, clay, glass and beaded items.

 

Facilities at the Castle include Guided Tours (which are a must to make the most of your visit), a bar with restaurant and bookstore and a gift shop.   The Castle is open daily from 09.00 to 17.00

 

Nearby Attractions

Elmira Fishing Harbour is a lively and colourful antidote to the sombre experience of a visit to the Castle.  In near-by Cape Coast Town you can enjoy various interesting workshops including Batiking, Drumming, Beadwork and Head-wrapping.

 

 

How to Get There

You can reach Cape Coast Town from Accra in less than 3 hours by bus.  From there it is a quick taxi ride to Elmina.

 

 

When to Visit

You can visit Elmina Castle all year round.


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