About St George’s Castle
St George’s Castle in Elmina was built by the Portuguese in 1482 as a trade settlement on the former Gold Coast – now modern-day Ghana – and it remains the oldest European building south of the Sahara desert. However, Elmina Castle has a far darker history.
History of St George’s Castle
The building itself is a grand, white-washed fortified medieval castle surrounded by blue seas, palm tree-lined beaches and stunning views of the Gulf of Guinea. Its initial purpose was to offer safe haven to trade ships passing between Europe and Africa as well as protecting the Gold Coast’s vast gold reserves but in 1637 everything changed.
The area was captured by the Dutch, who operated an infamous slave trade. They traded both commodities and human labour with the Brazilians and the Caribbean and it’s estimated that over 300,000 African men and women passed through St George’s Castle, never to return home.
Having no idea what horrors awaited them both on the slave ships and at their final, unknown destinations, they were kept in the castle’s dark, airless and swelteringly-hot underground dungeons for up to three months. They suffered the most horrific, humiliating and depraved conditions imaginable, up to 1,500 men and women at a time, shackled and cramped.
They would undergo torture and indignities of the most base level before passing through the so-called Door of No Return and onto ships bound for Brazil, the Caribbean and other Portuguese colonies as well as North and South America.
The Dutch carried on until 1814 and in 1872 St George’s Castle came under the auspices of the British Empire until 1957 when the newly-independent nation of Ghana assumed control. The British used the castle to imprison the Ashanti king Prempeh I for four years.
St George’s Castle today
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1972, Elmina Castle is a popular tourist destination in Ghana. It offers comprehensive daily tours detailing this grim aspect of the building’s history, and the former church-cum-slave auction-rooms now house a small museum with further information and exhibits.
Getting to St George’s Castle
The castle is located in the town of Elmina, on Elmina Point. It’s easily accessed from the rest of the city, and whilst you can walk here, many tourists prefer to get a taxi or other private transport. Elmina itself is 20 minutes drive west of Cape Coast.