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Ghana: Cape Coast castle

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Cape Coast castle | Ghana | Africa

[Visited: January 2011]

That morning, I was very lucky: when my taxi pulled up to the bus station of Accra, the bus (one of the four daily buses leaving for the west) was waiting and indeed, after buying a ticket, left immediately. While the road was in very good condition, traffic caused us to still take more than three hours and a half to reach Cape Coast. A taxi took me from the small bus station to my destination of the day: Cape Coast castle. After making a small donation to a group of local football players, I first walked to the beach on the east of the castle, behind a small market. Here, strong Ghanaian men were busy taking fishing boats ashore under a rhythmic chant, while women were walking past with buckets full of freshly caught fish and kids were playing on the fine sand. I walked the beach back towards the castle, watched the colourful and exciting scenes before walking around a corner. There, right on the rocks on which Cape Coast castle was built, I had a good view of the white fortification with cannons pointing at the sea. Powerful waves broke on the rocks, but the castle seemed to stand strong against the elements.

Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Wall with cannons seen from below

Walking back to the entrance, I paid my ticket and had to hurry down a corridor, in the dark interior of a dungeon, to join a group that had just started. The guide was just telling about the gifts on the floor (among them, a big blue-and-white heart donated by Michelle Obama), and the fact that one wall had been closed after Ghana reached independence. This, in these dark and stark dungeons, is where the male slaves were kept until they were taken to the ships that would eventually transport them to their new lives in the Americas. The guide proudly pointed out a plaque at the entrance, testifying of the visit, only 18 months before, of the Obamas in 2009. He softly talked about the other things we would see: separate dungeons for male and female slaves, the punishments by the colonial powers here that were brutal in order to scare the other slaves, the prison cells where slaves would just be dumped until they died, the brutal conditions under which the slaves were transported to their final destination, and the female dungeons from which the most attractive girls were chosen by the governor to sleep with.

Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): View of Cape Coast castle seen from the beach

We reached the Door of No Return, the lowest point of Cape Coast castle where slaves would be led whenever a ship arrived. Once through the door, they would be taken on small vessels taking them to the ship that would sail across the Atlantic on the voyage under horrific conditions to the west where the slaves would be sold. The more our guide told us, the quieter we, the European visitors, became. After the Swedes built this castle in 1653, it was conquered by the Danes for a very short while, after which the English took control in 1664. They rebuilt the castle, and would eventually turn it into the administrative centre of their British Gold Coast colony. Initially used for trade in gold and timber, the castle was later adapted to accommodate the trade for which it would become infamous: slaves. Its white and pretty exterior, and its location right on the Atlantic Ocean coast, belies the truth going on here until the abolition of the slave trade in the 19th century: if it were not for the disturbing stories told by the guide and the displays in the small museum, you could almost believe this to be a pretty place. Our guide rounded up his tour with a touching statement in which he said that no one now alive is to be blamed for the history of Cape Coast castle, but that all of us, of all races and religions, should always remember that we should never treat others like inferiors. With those wise words, I walked around the now empty castle, before walking down the beach on the west.

Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Graves and cannons defending Cape Coast castle
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Entrance of Cape Coast castle with cannons
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): View from Cape Coast castle
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Dalzel tower where the governor used to live
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Battery with cannons defending Cape Coast castle
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Cape Coast castle was built directly on the rocky shore
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Southern wall of Cape Coast castle with cannonballs
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): The western wall of Cape Coast castle
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): One of the rooms of Cape Coast castle
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Slave ships were used as efficient as possible as this description shows
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Arches in a white-washed corridor of Cape Coast castle
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Door of no return: the slaves who passed through this door would never return
Picture of Cape Coast castle (Ghana): Original door to a cell in Cape Coast castle

Around the World in 80 Clicks

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