Stretched along 539km (335 miles) of Ghanaian coastline are the architectural remnants of trading that began with timber and gold, ended in slavery, and was coveted by the Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Norwegians, Germans, and the British who all left their visible mark in these tumultuous and changing years. From the 15th to the 19th century, more than 40 forts and castles were built in the then Gold Coast, and a good portion of them can still be seen today.
Perhaps Ghana’s most famous castle, Cape Coast, was originally built by the Swedes for trade in timber and gold before being used in the transatlantic slave trade. This is where the Africans passed through the ‘gate of no return’ before being sent to the Caribbean or the Americas. Many nations descended on Cape Coast in order to get a foothold in the trade, and that is why the castle passed through the hands of so many nations including the Danish, Dutch, and English.
In 1683, the English Royal African Company began building this military structure located in Dixcove to be used as a trading post for gold and slaves. It wasn’t completed for 14 years due to hostilities with locals. Fast forward to more modern times, those hostilities resurfaced when Robert Fidler from Surrey, UK applied for and was granted a 20-year lease of the castle in 2001. He then began using it as a residence and began renovations to turn the castle into a resort, both of which raised several eyebrows. Furthermore, the Ghana Monuments Board say he has violated the terms of his lease agreement and local chiefs are angry at changes made to the structure without consultation from them. The case goes on.
Subsequently known as Osu Castle and simply Castle, Fort Christianbord was built in 1666 by a Danish-Norweigan alliance. It changed hands between Portugal, the Akwamu tribe of Ghana, and the British and the structure has been rebuilt many times. Until 2009, it was the seat of the Ghana government before being moved to a purpose-built site at Jubilee House. It is not open to the public and photography is limited, but it retains interesting features in an unusually shaped building including a clinic, café, and shopping centre while the surrounding grounds house a variety of exotic birds.
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Built high on Manfro Hill in Princess Town, this elegant fort that resembles an English country manor was built by the Brandeburgers in 1684 on the site of a Danish lodge built in 1658. It was abandoned in 1716 and occupied by a local chief, Jonny Conny, in 1717 where he remained until 1725 when it was captured by the Dutch and renamed Fort Hollandia. In 1872, it, and many other castles were ceded to the British. The castle was recently leased and is due for a major renovation but until then, up to 10 people can stay the night. Visitors can also choose to sleep on the terrace and under the stars for a few dollars a night
This Dutch built fort located in the Central Region was originally a stone trading lodge and forged at the request of the King of the Acron people with whom the Dutch had a treaty. They were not happy to build it as the area was not the best site for trading, so they only gave minimal funds for it. The Acron were not happy and routinely threatened them with expulsion if they did not make the structure larger. In the end, it took five years to build—hence the name Fort Patience.
In the middle of the 17th century, European traders all vied to establish a trading post at this enviable location with good access to the interior. The local Anomabu people were known as fierce traders, and it was the Dutch that established a post first with an earthwork lodge built in 1640. The site changed hands four times—to the Swedes, then the Danes, back to the Dutch and lastly claimed by the English. A huge slave departure site, the Dutch general stated that between 1702 and 1708, they took no less than 30,014 slaves to Barbados and Jamaica and this number doesn’t include many other ships and companies that would have increased the number tremendously.
Originally called Fort Cormantin and built by the British between 1638 and 1645, it was captured by the Dutch West India Company in 1665. It is located in the village of Abandze that grew around the site of the fort over time.
Fort Santo Antonio was built in 1515 by the Portuguese in Axim near the Ankobra River. An earlier structure they attempted to build was severely attacked by the local people and subsequently abandoned. The newer structure was triangular with two major bastions at the north and south and could accommodate up to 30 officers.
Located at Keta, Prinzenstein is one of the few forts built east of the Volta River. It was erected by the Danish for defensive purposes against the Anio Ewe people and also as protection against other colonial powers. The Danes eventually defeated the Anio Ewe and in 1784, they imposed a treaty that stated that the tribe was only able to trade with them. Up until 1803, it was used as a dungeon to hold slaves before shipment. After its transfer to the British, it was used as a prison. Partially destroyed by the sea in 198o, its remains are still visible today.
This fort is located in the lively enclave of Jamestown in Accra and is currently being restored with funds from the European Commission and UNESCO with the intention of making it a museum and international documentation centre. Important as a trading post, it is a day’s march from Elmina and situated between two rocky lagoons.
Batensteintranslates to ‘profit fort’ and was built by the Dutch West India Company as an attempt to suppress the Swedish Africa Company’s attempts to set up a trading post in 1656. Located near Butre, it was converted into a sawmill in the 18th century to repair ships coming into port. The Dutch-Ahanta War of 1847 made it a focal point of Dutch military effort on the coast. After the Treaty of Butre, the Dutch made Ahanta a protectorate but when the Dutch sold up to the British in 1872, the locals were not happy and took to the streets waving Dutch flags and firing guns. The British shelled the castle in 1873 in retaliation for an attack on Dixcove.
The third oldest fort in Ghana was built by the Portuguese between 1520 and 1526 as a deterrent to English sailors looking to muscle in on their trade. The first black university professor, noted philosopher, and teacher Anton Wilhelm Amo is interred in the fort’s graveyard.
Built in 1652 as an aide to protect Elmina from attacks, Coenraadsburg stood on the foundations of a fortified chapel that the Portuguese built and the Dutch then burned to the ground in the Battle of Elmina in 1637.
Situated next to Jamestown Lighthouse in Accra, Fort James was built by the British in 1673 as a trading post and joined two other notable forts in Accra: Ussher and Christiansborg. The Jamestown neighbourhood derives its name from this building. From colonial times up until as recently as 2008, the fort served as a prison.
Named Apollonia by a Portuguese explorer who discovered the site on the Day of the Feast of Saint Apollonia, it was first built by the Swedish between 1655 and 1657. Located in Beyin, it changed hands to the British in the 19th century and between 1962 and 1968, it was the focus of renovations. Contact the Ghana Monuments Board for more information on visiting any of these sites
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