A harsh and sobering part of history is the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which lasted from the 16th to 19th centuries and stole an estimated 12 million people from Africa. These human beings were taken from their families and homelands and sold into slavery in the Americas. By the late 17th century, the British were shipping the most slaves from their colonies in West Africa, including Ghana. One of the their slave trading forts was Cape Coast castle.
History of Cape Coast Castle
The fort at Cape Coast was founded in 1653 by the Swedes, initially for the gold and timber trade. Over the next ten years, the Swedes, Danish and Dutch vied for control of the trading post. Ultimately, it landed in the hands of the Dutch. In 1664, the British captured the fort as a part of the Second Dutch-Anglo war.
After fortifying the structure and building it up, Cape Coast Castle became the capital for British operations in the Gold Coast. In 1757, the entire building was reconstructed after sustaining damage from a French assault during the Seven Years’ War
The castle underwent restorations in the 1920s and 1990s and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Inside Cape Coast Castle
A visit to Cape Coast Castle includes a very good guided tour, with much of the history explained. You start in the dungeons, where the slaves were held.
In one of the male dungeons, archeologists excavated the floor and found that the original stone floor was about 18 inches below where they began. All of that was an accumulation of blood, urine, feces, vomit, menses and dirt. All of the floors of the other dungeons remain un-excavated. Each dungeon had small holes, barely allowing any light or air into the rooms that would be packed with bodies in the tropical climate. Food would be thrown down one from one of these holes.
There is a smaller room, adjacent to the female dungeons. In this cell, women who were chosen to be raped by the officers were held. In the corner of the large courtyard, there is another small cell, with no windows to the outside. Captives who were deemed troublesome were locked in that small room to die of starvation, overheating and suffocation.
After spending months in the dungeons, waiting for ships that could be packed full of human beings, the captives were taken through what became known as the Door of No Return. Presently, the door is large and accommodating, however it was enlarged after the end of the slave trade. During the years of the slave trade, the door was much smaller, about four feet tall which made it difficult for the enslaved people to try to escape that way.
In recent years, descendants of enslaved people have come back to Ghana and participated in homecoming ceremonies. Part of this includes walking back through this door, making it the Door of Return.
Above the dungeons are large, bright rooms with marble floors and windows overlooking the ocean. These were used by officers, the governors and notable visitors. Rooms included great dining halls, negotiation rooms and a church among others. In a bit of cruelty, the church was located directly above the dungeons, with holes in the ceiling. Those in the dungeons could then hear the preaching of a promise of heaven while they were trapped in an earthly hell.
Visiting Cape Coast Castle
Cape Coast is about 150 kilometers from Accra. To get there, you can take a bus or tro tro from Kaneshie station. If you are dropped on the highway, take a taxi into town to the castle. If you are dropped off in town, it’s not too far of a walk to the castle and anyone can point you in the right direction. Admission is 40 cedi for foreigners at the time of writing, 30 cedi if you have a student ID. The tour lasts about an hour and half to two hours and there is a pretty decent museum there as well, so budget for about two and a half hours to see it all.