Forts & Castles

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The castles and forts of Ghana constitute treasures par excellence, a legacy of the historic past as much to modern Ghana and Africa as to the world at large. Though built on African soil, their authors came from Europe – Portuguese, Dutch, French, Britons, Brandenburg-Prussians, Danes and Swedes. For several centuries, European masters and native African servants lived and worked in them. The warehouses teemed with gold and ivory export products as well as African slaves destined for auction in the New World, there to become ancestors to future generations of black populations. Indeed, these historic buildings were no respectors of persons and extraordinary history was made once when one castle, Elmina, held prisoner an Asante King in all his splendour during the first stage of his forced exile from Ghana. Hence, not only modern Ghanaians, but also many millions in countries of the Western hemisphere and elsewhere constitute stake-holders with an interest in ensuring the preservation of these historic castles and forts.

Recognizing their unique place in world history, the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO has designated Ghana”s castles and forts as World Heritage Monuments.

Cape Coast Castle

The strategic location of Cape Coast having a sheltered beach in proximity to Elmina Castle made it a great attraction to the European nations. Hence, for nearly a century, there was a ding-dong competition among the Portuguese, Dutch, Danes, Swedes and English to gain control of Cape Coast. The Portuguese built the first trade lodge in 1555 and called the local settlement “Cabo Corso”, meaning short cape, later corrupted to Cape Coast. The Swedes, led by Krusenstjerna, built a permanent fort in 1653 and called it Carolus burg after King Charles X of Sweden. During the next 11 years, the Danes, the local Fetu chief and the Dutch each in turn captured and held Carolusburg for a time. Finally, the English fleet led by Captain Holmes took Carolusburg. The fort remained in English hands till the late 19th century serving as the West African headquarters seat of the president of the Committee of Merchants and later as the seat of the British governor.

Elmina Castle

The Portuguese founded Castle “Sao Jorge and Mina” in 1482 to protect the gold-rich lands discovered in 1471. The castle was completed according to its original plan in 1486 and the town was raised to the status of a “city”.

Portuguese navigators carefully selected the castle’s site, because it was strategically located at the end of a narrow promontory bounded on two sides by the Atlantic Ocean and the Benya River or lagoon. Here, in the lee of a low headland, a natural harbour provided sheltered anchorage.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese enjoyed a trade boom in spite of numerous attempts by Castilians and later the French and the English to break the Portuguese trade monopoly.

The Portuguese imported vast quantities of old and new cloths, blankets and linen from Morocco, North European copper and brassware, millions of “manilas” (metal bracelets) and iron kettles and bars in exchange for gold dust and ornaments supplied by Mina. So extensive and popular was the cloth trade that a factor maintained a large shop for old linen c.1500-1507. The commander of the castle wrote to King Manuel in 1503: “Sir, I, Diego d’ Alvarenga, kiss the royal hands of your highness and I report that I have received the old linen.”
The import trade raised the issue of porterage, as the natives needed assistance in conveyance of large quantities of European goods into the hinterland and coastlands. To meet this need, the Portuguese initiated, in the early 16th century, the importation of slaves from Benin to Elmina in exchange for gold, ivory, etc. As it turned out, however, the price of gold slumped in Europe in the 16th century due to massive importation of superior gold from Mexico. At the same time, the Portuguese Crown spent vast sums of resources on defensive works, artillery, galleys, warships and convoys related to Mina. Thus weakened, the Portuguese succumbed to Dutch attacks and were dislodged from Elmina in 1637

Fort William – Anomabu

Anomabu became the focus of intense European trade rivalry in the 17th and 18th centuries, partly because of its easy access to a rich hinterland and partly because the local Anomabu were themselves powerful and astute traders. From the middle of the 17th century, European companies vied with each other in the quest for rights to establish and maintain a trading post at Anomabu. The earliest lodge was built in 1640 by the Dutch using earthwork, changed hands four times – from the Dutch to Swedes, then to the Danes, back to the Dutch and finally to the English.

In 1674, the English built a small fort using more durable materials and called it Charles, after the reigning monarch King Charles II. However, it was abandoned in order to concentrate efforts and costs on Fort Carolusburg at Cape Coast. Even though the English demolished Fort Charles in 1731 to prevent its capture and use by another European company, the French sneaked in and built a fort where Fort Charles once stood.

In 1698, the English Royal African Company “licensed” ship captains not in its employment upon the payment of a 10% “affiliation fee” to’ enable them to trade in its areas of monopoly. There followed a flood of “Ten Presenters” trading at English forts, often outnumbering the company’s own ships. Anomabu became a popular haunt of “ten presenters”, (until their licensing was stopped in 1712), exporting vast numbers of slaves.

The Dutch director-general at Elmina, Engelgraaf Roberts, quoting an English captain on Anomabu Slave trade exports stated in 1717: “From] January 1702 to August 1708 they took to Barbados Jamaica a total of not less than 30,14 slaves and in this figure are not include transactions made for other ships sailing to such Islands as Nevis, Montserrat, St. Christopher, for the South Sea Company, the New Netherlands and others which would increase the above number considerably, and of which Annemaboe alone could provide about one third.”

Christiansborg Castle – Accra

 Christiansborg Castle is unique among the castles and forts as it served as Government House during various periods in the 19th and 20th centuries and continues to play that role today.

The building of the first lodge in the 17th century at Ursu or Osu is attributed to the Swedish African Company. In 1657, the Swedish headquarters at Carolusburg Castle, Cape Coast was captured by the Danish Guinea Company led by Heindrick Caerlof who himself was formerly the Swedish Africa Company’s Commanding Director. This resulted in all Swedish establishments including Osu lodge passing into the hands of the Danish Africa Company. Caerlof defected to the Dutch in 1659. The Danish Commander of Carolusburg was tricked into believing that Denmark had been conquered. He therefore sold Carolusburg to the Dutch and with it the former Swedish establishments including Osu lodge. The Ga Paramount Chief Okaikoi, disgusted with their trickery, asked the Dutch to leave Osu. In 1661, Jost Cramer, Danish governor of Fredericksborg, near Cape Coast, acquired land from Chief Okaikoi for 3,200 gold florins. The Danes built a stone fort to replace the earthen lodge and named it Christiansborg (Christian’s fortress) after the former King of Denmark, Christian IV who had died in 1648.

In 1679, Peder Bolt, a Greek who was deputy commandant at Christiansborg, instigated the murder of the Danish commandant Johan Ulrich and sold the castle to Julian de Campo Baretto, former governor of the Portuguese Island of Sao Thome.

The Portuguese renamed the castle “St. Francis Xavier”, garrisoned it, constructed a Roman Catholic Chapel in it and made architectural improvement on the bastions.

Fort Patience – Apam

In the late 17th century, the small state of Acorn – sandwiched between the larger British allies of Agona and Fante sought to have a strong fort built on its territory to defend it in case of attack. The Dutch, while willing to erect a fort at Apam, were in no position to build a large one. Building of the fort commenced in 1697 on the summit of a promontory close to a sheltered beach and bay. However, disagreement between the two sides concerning the form of the fort delayed its completion until 1702. Hence the name they gave to the fort – Lijdzaamheid, meaning patience.

The initial structure was a “small two-storey house”. Between 1701 and 1721, this was
Strengthened with two demi-bastions at diametrically opposite corners.

Fort Amsterdam (Cormantin) – Abandze

History has it that, in 1631, a renegade employee of the Dutch West Indian Company called Arent Groote, acting on behalf of the English Company of Adventurers Trading to Guynney and Binney, signed an agreement with the Chief of Cormantin by which a hill site near the village was ceded to the English company. That year, the company built a lodge. Later, it was destroyed by fire and the company converted the lodge into a fort in 1638. In 1661, ownership of the fort was transferred to the Royal African Company and it became the headquarters of the English possessions on the Gold Coast.

In 1665, the Dutch Admiral De Ruyter captured Fort Cormantin in retaliation for the capture of several Dutch forts by English Admiral Holmes in 1664. The Dutch reconstructed the fort and renamed it “Fort Amsterdam”. The English transferred their headquarters to Cape Coast Castle.

Fort Amsterdam (Cormantin) – Abandze

History has it that, in 1631, a renegade employee of the Dutch West Indian Company called Arent Groote, acting on behalf of the English Company of Adventurers Trading to Guynney and Binney, signed an agreement with the Chief of Cormantin by which a hill site near the village was ceded to the English company. That year, the company built a lodge. Later, it was destroyed by fire and the company converted the lodge into a fort in 1638. In 1661, ownership of the fort was transferred to the Royal African Company and it became the headquarters of the English possessions on the Gold Coast.

In 1665, the Dutch Admiral De Ruyter captured Fort Cormantin in retaliation for the capture of several Dutch forts by English Admiral Holmes in 1664. The Dutch reconstructed the fort and renamed it “Fort Amsterdam”. The English transferred their headquarters to Cape Coast Castle.

Fort Good Hope – Senya Beraku

Thanks to their establishment of a lodge at Senya Beraku in 1667, the Dutch entered into a long-standing relationship with the Agona State. Its chief subsequently requested the Dutch to build a permanent fort at Beraku. The Dutch accepted the invitation because of the prospect of a trade boom in gold, ivory and slaves emanating from the Akyem kingdom located in the hinterland beyond Agona, and also because private traders were taking advantage of the absence of any Dutch forts in the area between Accra and Apam.

In 1705-06, as a preliminary stage prior to building a four-sided fort, the Dutch constructed a small triangular fort on a promontory located near a cove where there was a good landing beach. As the fort appealed to presage great expectations, the Dutch named it ‘De Goede Hoop’, meaning “Good Hope”.

Fort St. Jago (Coenraadsburg) – Elmina

In 1503, according to historical narration by the Portuguese Diego de Alvarenga, a Portuguese missionary converted and baptized the paramount chief of the Efutu Kingdom on the Mina coast together with 300 of his subjects. The chief permitted the Portuguese to build a church on the hill located opposite the Castle St. Jorge. The site was dedicated to the Portuguese saint, Jago.

In 1637, the Dutch employed the hill as a gun-position to bombard and take Elmina Castle from the Portuguese. The following year, the Dutch, seeking to protect the castle from the landward side, built on St. Jago hill, 33 meters above sea level, a redoubt or fortified quadrilateral earthwork with a tower and gate and a single-storied building within a courtyard all surrounded by an embankment. In the 1660’s, the Dutch used local sandstone rock to build a permanent fort to replace the earthen fortification, which was then destroyed.

The stone fort, named Coenraadsburg, is unique and impressive as “the oldest purely military architecture of the Gold Coast”. It had no commercial warehouses of any kind and its military fortifications were based on the design of baroque military architecture. Its salient features comprised two giant, strong landward bastions on the northeast and northwest sides for defending the castle from land attacks and two smaller seaward bastions on the southwest and southeast sides. Curtain walling linked the bastions

Fort Apollonia – Beyin

A long sandy beach interrupted by lagoons and swamps characterizes the coastlands west of the mouth of the River Ankobra. At Beyin, however, there is a stretch of flat solid sandy ground above the beach. The Tano basin and the Ankasa forest in the hinterlands of Beyin are rich in gold and timber. Thus, even though the coastlands were unsuitable for fort building and harbours, European nations, especially the French, Dutch and English competed for a foothold in the area. The English Committee of Merchants, in response to an invitation from the Nzema Chief Amenihyia, built the last English fort above the beach at Beyin. The English employed slave labour and quarried limestone rock from a nearby site to build the fort in 1768-70.

The name Apollonia, chosen for the fort, was first conferred on the area by the Portuguese explorer who sighted the place on St. Apollonia’s day. Shortly after the abolition of the slave trade, gradual economic decline set in and the English abandoned the fort in 1819. In 1868, Fort Apollonian was transferred to the Dutch who renamed it after their monarch, Willem III, and held it till 1872.

Fort Batenstein – Butre

Butre village is located in a sheltered bay amidst the forests of Ahantaland, east of Cape Three Points. Like Dixcove and Fredericksburg, it was among the early historic settlements generated by the 17th century inter-European and inter-African conflicts, partly because it lay close to the gold-rich hinterland. As early as 1598, the Dutch West Indian Company established a trade post at Butre. As a counterpoise, the Dutch financed Swedish Africa Company led by Heinrich Caerlof set up a lodge at Butre in 1650-52. In retaliation, the W.I.C. instigated the Ankasa people to attack and expel the Swedish Company.

Then, in 1656, the Dutch Company constructed its own fort on the hill at Butre and named it Batenstein. The fort was visited and described by 17th century authors, Jean Barbot in 1679 and William Bosman in 1701. Bosman said of it: “On a very high hill lies a tiny ill-designed fort called Batenstein with four useless little bastions upon which are mounted eleven light cannon.” It had a pair of flat-roofed buildings adjoining the bastions. So feeble was the structure, militarily, that it was said that it was shaken itself whenever it had to fire its own guns. In reality, its guns were used more for firing salutes than actual military encounters because the fort’s commanding location on top of the steep hill gave it a semblance of impregnability that tended to put off would-be invaders.

Fort Metal Cross – Dixcove

In the 1680’s, the Ahantaland around Inhuman settlement was a bone of contention between the English and the Brandenburg. The English were determined to acquire land there to build a fort because many English interloper captains were accustomed to trading at Fort Gross Fredericksburg to the detriment of English commerce.

The chief of Upper/Greater Dixcove leased to the English a promontory site near Inhuman village, located on the shore of a large and sheltered bay, later designated as Dick’s Cove (Dixcove). The Cove’s calm waters and sandy beach made it an ideal “harbour” for canoes and small boats while ships could anchor about 3 kilometres offshore. The Royal African Company commenced construction of the fort in 1692 but was unable to complete it until 1698 because of spasmodic attacks by the Ahanta people which continued well into the 18th century on account of the presence of the Dutch fort Babenstein at Butre.

The original fort, as seen and described by writers like Jean Barbot, was square with a pointed bastion at each corner except for the southwest corner which had a round tower. Curtain walls linked the bastions and tower. The inner structure comprised apartments, storage rooms and kitchen arranged round a small courtyard. Subsequently there were several alterations to the original structure: a spur ending with a bastion, which was constructed in the 1St century, consisted of garrison apartments storage rooms and a workshop. One of the hollow bastions in the main section of the fort was employed as a slave prison. By 1750, the fort was equipped to carry up to 25 canons.

Fort Orange – Sekondi

The coast at Sekondi became another theatre of European trade competition in the 17th and 18th centuries. The competition often degenerated into hostilities as local Hanta peoples were ranged in opposing alliances supporting the English or Dutch companies in their two separate trade posts located within gunshot of each other. For instance, in 1694, one Ahanta group captured and destroyed the Dutch fort, which then had to be rebuilt; in 1698 a second group of Ahanta captured and damaged the English fort and the English had to rebuild it only for it to be recaptured by the French in 1779.

The foundation of the earliest-known Dutch lodge harks back to the 1670’s. The precise date is uncertain. However, by 1704, the lodge had become a small fort called “Oranje”.

Fort St. Anthonio – Axim

Following the establishment of their headquarters at Elmina, the Portuguese, in an effort to maintain their monopoly and exclude foreign ships from the gold markets, built a trade post in 1503 at Axim close to the mouth of the River Ankobra. Owing to attacks launched by the local people on the lodge, the trade post was abandoned. In ISIS, a small promontory close to the Ankobra mouth was chosen and a fort built to cover the entire promontory. It was named Santo Antonio and was the second Portuguese fort on the Gold Coast. The site chosen had several little inselbergs in the ocean close to the promontory.

The fort was triangular in outline, in keeping with the contours of the promontory. Two major bastions were located on the northern and southern ends – the two corners of the wide end of the triangle. A curved battery linked them. The Portuguese constructed a rock-cut ditch some three metres deep to protect the landward side of the fort but this was later filled in during the 17th century. Inside the fort, a number of buildings of considerable size were raised to accommodate up to thirty officers.

Fort St. Sebastian – Shama

Sebastian was originally constructed and named by the Portuguese c.1520-26. However, its first appearance on a map was in the context of Di Castaldi’s Venetian map of 1564. In putting up the fort, the Portuguese hoped to stop English ships from interfering in their trade in the Shama area.

According to a Portuguese chart of 1630, the Portuguese fort had a bastion, two single-storeyed buildings with pitched roofs and a two-storeyed tower. At the time the Dutch took over the fort it was in a state of ruin. While retaining its name, they carried out repairs in 1640-42 and added substantially to the previous structural form.

Built as a Dutch lodge in 1526. Portuguese fort built in 1590. Abandoned in 1600. Restored and altered by the Dutch c.1638, enlarged in 1640-2. Attacked by the English under Captain Robert Holme. Temporally in English hands, in 1664-65. The Dutch struck back under De Ruyter, re-occupied it the same year and rebuilt it in 1666. Abandoned it before 1870. Ceded to Britain in 1872. Restored in 1954-57.

Fort Friederichsburg at Princess town

Located on Manfro Hill 5km east of Fort St. Antonio, this fort was built by the Brandeburgers in 1683. Danish lodge in 1658, fort built in 1682. Fort built in 1683, abandoned in 1716 and shortly afterwards occupied by local chief, John Conny, in 1717, who remained in occupation until 1725 when it was captured by the Dutch and renamed Fort Hollandia. It remained in the possession of the Dutch until 1872 when it was ceded to Britain.

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