Saturday, November 8, 2014

Elmina Castle - Ghana

In May 1790, as George Cannon and the ship Eliza sailed down the Gold Coast toward Cape Coast Castle and Anomabu, they would have glassed the giant Elmina Castle sitting on a promontory abutting the Atlantic Ocean and Elmina Bay, next to the Benya River, about six miles before and in sight of Cape Coast Castle, which sat on a pile of rocks at the other end of the bay.  
The Benya River emptying into Elmina Bay in an old print from well before the time the Eliza visited. From Wikipedia. 
A 17th century print with a small ship, a boat going up the Benya River and Elmina Castle in the background. From 
A 1668 print of Elmina Castle from Wikipedia. 
Elmina Castle viewed from Fort Coenraadsburg. The Gulf of Guinea is beyond it, the Benya River runs in front of it and Elmina Bay goes to the left outside the picture.
More to the left, also from Fort Coenraadsburg, is Elmina Bay. Cape Coast Castle, not really visible in this picture, is at the tip of the far end of the bay in the background. 
A closer view of Elmina Castle, also taken from Fort Coenraadsurg. 
A view of Elmina Castle from a window in Fort Coenraadsburge.
Elmina Castle was the granddaddy of forts on the Gold Coast, built by the Portuguese between 1482 and 1486 to protect their interest in the gold that was found inland in 1471. Aptly named St. George of the Mine (Sao Jorge da Mina in Portuguese), it presided over one of the best harbors in West Africa, sufficiently deep to allow smallish ships, i.e. 50 tons or less, to moor nearby. It became the model for later forts built along the Gold Coast. In the struggle for dominance over trade in the area, the Dutch captured Elmina Castle from the Portuguese in 1637. One of the strategic moves that helped them in their victory was capturing a hilltop overlooking the Castle from the northwest which had a church dedicated to the Portuguese St. Jago, St. Jago da Mina. From that hilltop the Dutch were able to bombard the Castle with cannon fire. One of the first things the Dutch did after their victory was build a fort on that hilltop, over the church, and named it Fort Coenraadsburg. It contained no warehouses for goods, just a defensive spot so that the tables could not be turned on the Dutch from that same spot.
The inland entrance to Elmina Castle.
From the inner courtyard, looking at the administrative center.
From the administrative center, looking back across the courtyard at what the Portuguese used as a church and the Dutch later transformed into an auction hall for slaves. 
Same view, but from the Governor's Hall on the second floor in the administrative center.
A more enclosed courtyard with dungeons below and living quarters on upper levels. 

A slave dungeon. Picture from Wikipedia.
The administrative center from the other side, but still within the main outer wall.
From the castle walls, looking across the courtyard at the administrative center.
From an inland side of the castle, what looks like it may have been an inner moat, and the Benya river in the distance.
The same wall, looking in the opposite direction out to the Gulf of Guinea.
The Gulf of Guinea.
Canoes where the Benya River empties into Elmina Bay.
From a gundeck, looking toward Fort Coenraadsburg on a hill.
A closer view of Fort Coenraadsburg.
Fishing canoes fill the Benya River below.
Walking up the hill toward Fort Coenradsburg.
I like pictures of flowers hanging out of guns. This is even better - an agama lizard on the barrel of a gun. 
The tower at Fort Coenraadsburg.
The Benya River and the Gulf of Guinea from Fort Coenraadsburg.
The Eliza likely did not trade at Elmina Castle, but all of the sailors aboard would have been very familiar with where it was and its purpose on the Gold Coast. Visiting the forts and castles along the Gold Coast really brought home to me how commercialized and institutionalized the slave trade was, both from the standpoint of the Europeans and the Africans. For slave trading, the Gold Coast was the equivalent of our modern auto plazas, where different dealerships are found in close approximation.

I really like the quote below found on one of the dungeon walls. As we walked the Gold Coast, in part searching for the past of one of my ancestors, we encountered other people in search of theirs as well, as progeny of slaves, those that were in the dungeons of the forts and in the holds of the ships, whose stories are just beginning to be told.
It is always good to get the perspective of all sides. 


  1. Quite an amazing place as far as the setting goes. There is still a lot of commerce going on here, and it was easy to imagine humans replacing the other goods for sale.

  2. Replies
    1. I agree, it is sad that we often only get one side of history.