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Elmina Castle in Ghana
Elmina Castle Today
Elmina Castle is a popular tourist site, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Historic Site. It is open to the public and tour guides are available. I recommend that you use a guide because the castle is big and there is a lot to see. In addition, if every guide is a story teller as our guide was, you will have a very interesting experience.
The History of Elmina Castle
Elmina Castle was built in 1482 by Portugal. It was originally called Sao Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine) It was often shortened to Mina.It is located in Elmina, Ghana which was once known as The Gold Coast. It was the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea and the oldest European building in existence below the Sahara. The castle later became one of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic Slave Trade. In 1637, it was seized by the Dutch. The slave trade continued under the Dutch until 1814; in 1872 it became a possession of the British Empire.
Britain granted The Gold Coast independance in 1957 and control of Elmina Castle was given to the nation.
The Town of Elmina
The city is on the southern coast of Ghana. It is a fishing community and the town is rich with vibrant color and bustling activity. When you tour the castle, be sure to leave yourself time to walk around the town and visit the market to partake in local treats. What was most appealing to me was the blend of modern and historical, "western style" dress and traditional. It is as common to see women dressed in a traditional dashiki, carrying their wares in large baskets on their heads as it is to see men in jeans, t-shirts and baseball caps.
Inside Elmina CastleClick thumbnail to view full-size
More Views of Elmina Castle.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Tour of Elmina Castle
When you are in the castle, you will see how well maintainred it is. Part of the tour talks about the restoration that was done but most of it is original. It is damp and dark in certain areas and many of the ceilings are very low. If you are claustraphobic, you may want to avoid certain dungeon areas. This tour can be overwhelming. It is difficult to conceive of the horrors that happened there. Elmina Castle is right on the coast. When you exit the castle, you are greeted with the fresh scent and sight of the sea, a much needed breath of fresh air.
What to Expect when visiting Tourist Areas in Ghana.
Whenever you visit a tourist are, be aware that many of the local people will be waiting to meet, greet and sell you you local crafts. The Ghanaian people were very friendly and warm. As we stepped off of our bus, we were greeted and escorted to the castle. They asked us our names and where we were from. When we exited the castle, our new friends were waiting for us with bracelets and shells that they had personalized for us. Most asked for 5 or 10 cedis (Ghanaian currency. 1 cedi is about fifty cents.) There were also school age children asking for pens, pencils and candy. This is very common everywhere you go. You are not obligated to buy or give.
This Time For Africa
Elmina is a town steeped in cultural activity. If you want to visit a place that conveys the true heart and spirit of the Ghanaian people, Elmina is a great place to go. While the castle can be depressing, it is such an important part of our history, we would be remiss not to visit while there.