Ghana has a very imposing history. It was colonized by many European countries from the 15th to the 19th century and all the European colonizers left their footprints along the coast of Ghana. The Portugese were the first Europeans to settle in Ghana in the 15th century. They had set foot in Ghana mainly for 3 reasons; to explore a new sea route to the Far East for trading spices, to explore where all the gold was coming from that was being transported across the Sahara, to spread Christianity beyond the Islamic countries north of the Sahara. They made progress along the Gold Coast line as trade in gold flourished. Later, unfortunately, they started with the trading of African human beings and the horrific Transatlantic Slave Trade period started. The French, Portugese, Danes, Dutch, Germans, Swedes and the British followed and built dozens of trading forts and castles along the coastline. Ghana’s forts and castles are designated by the UNESCO as a group of World Heritage Properties and are being well preserved as a constant reminder of that horrific period. Your visit to Ghana is not complete without a tour through at least one of the castles that throw you right back to the appalling Transatlantic Slave Trade period.
Elmina Castle (also known as St. Georges Castle)
Elmina Castle, founded in 1482, is the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea and the oldest European building in West Africa. The museum inside the castle is definitely worth a visit. At the entrance a tour guide will welcome you and take you on a tour though the impressive fort. Elmina was originally built to store gold and protect the coast from invaders but it later became an important distribution point for the slaves that were brought from all over Ghana to be shipped overseas to work on the plantations. During the tour you will be informed about the history of the castle, you will be taken through the dungeons where the slaves were imprisoned and see ‘the gate of no return’, the exit that led to the ships. The permanent exhibition inside the museum shows photographs of the castle across the centuries, gold weights, chains, iron shackles, ceramics and stools.
If you have time, take a guided hour tour through the fascinating town of Elmina and walk around the historical fishing village. The tour will lead you to some historical sites an buildings and key monuments and offers beautiful panorama of the fishing harbor, the lagoon and the castle.
Cape Coast Castle
Cape Coast Castle was built on the site of the Swedish Fort Carolusburg, in 1653, specifically to house slaves. At the entrance a tour guide will welcome you to guide you around. A self-guided tour is also possible, however it is highly recommended to take a guided tour to fully comprehend the history of the castle. During the tour you will be guided through the impressive dark dungeons and the auction hall. In the courtyard the slaves were branded so they could easily be identified by their owners. From the last dungeon the slaves were led through a tunnel to the awaiting ships. To walk through that ‘door of no return’ definitely gives you a lump in your throat and shivers down your spine. After the slave trade Cape Coast Castle became a seat if government for the British rulers before they moved their administration to Accra. The tour ends at the museum and gift shop, where you can buy books and other items from Ghana. In 2009 US President Obama visited Cape Coast Castle with his family and unveiled a plaque on the occasion of their visit.
Osu Castle (also known as Fort Christiansbourg)
The impressive Osu Castle has been fully renovated and recently opened to visitors. If you are not traveling beyond Accra, the Osu Castle is definitely worth a visit to learn about its history and slave trade. The tour will lead you through the beautiful gardens and the former Presidents offices. The original castle was built by the Danes in 1661 and was then a lot smaller than the modern castle. It has been occupied by several governments and was rebuilt several times. Since 1957, when Ghana became independent, the fort served as Government House until 2013 when the President and his moved to the Flagstaff House.