The remains of fortified trading-posts, erected between 1482 and 1786, can still be seen along the coast of Ghana between Keta and Beyin. They were links in the trade routes established by the Portuguese in many areas of the world during their era of great maritime exploration.
Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions
© John Tolva
Outstanding Universal Value
These fortified trading posts, founded between 1482 and 1786, and spanning a distance of approximately 500 km along the coast of Ghana between Keta in the east and Beyin in the west, were links in the trading routes established by the Portuguese in many areas of the world during their era of great maritime exploration. The castles and forts were built and occupied at different times by traders from Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany and Britain. They served the gold trade of European chartered companies. Latterly they played a significant part in the developing slave trade, and therefore in the history of the Americas, and, subsequently, in the 19th century, in the suppression of that trade.
The property consists of three Castles (Cape Coast, St. George’s d’Elmina and Christiansborg at Osu, Accra), 15 Forts (Good Hope at Senya Beraku; Patience at Apam; Amsterdam at Abandzi; St. Jago at Elmina; San Sebastian at Shama; Metal Cross at Dixcove; St. Anthony at Axim; Orange at Sekondi; Groot Fredericksborg at Princesstown; William (Lighthouse) at Cape Coast; William at Anomabu; Victoria at Cape Coast; Ussher at Usshertown, Accra; James at Jamestown, Accra and Apollonia at Beyin), four Forts partially in ruins (Amsterdam at Abandzi; English Fort at British Komenda; Batenstein at Butre; Prinzensten at Keta), four ruins with visible structures (Nassau at Mouri; Fredensborg at Old Ningo; Vredenburg at Dutch Komenda; Vernon at Prampram and Dorothea at Akwida) and two sites with traces of former fortifications (Frederiksborg at Amanful, Cape Coast and Augustaborg at Teshie, Accra).
The basic architectural design of the Forts was in the form of a large square or rectangle. The outer components consisted of four bastions/batteries or towers located at the corners, while the inner components consisted of buildings of two or three storeys with or without towers, in addition to an enclosure, courtyard or a spur. Many have been altered, during their use by successive European powers, and some survive only as ruins.
St. George’s d’Elmina Castle, built in 1482, is one of the oldest European buildings outside Europe, and the historic town of Elmina is believed to be the location of the first point of contact between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans.
The castles and forts constituted for more than four centuries a kind of ‘shopping street’ of West Africa to which traders of Europe’s most important maritime nations came to exchange their goods for those of African traders, some of whom came from very far in the interior.
They can be seen as a unique “collective historical monument”: a monument not only to the evils of the slave trade, but also to nearly four centuries of pre-colonial Afro-European commerce on the basis of equality rather than on that of the colonial basis of inequality. They represent, significantly and emotively, the continuing history of European-African encounter over five centuries and the starting point of the African Diaspora.
Criterion (vi): The Castles and Forts of Ghana shaped not only Ghana’s history but that of the world over four centuries as the focus of first the gold trade and then the slave trade. They are a significant and emotive symbol of European-African encounters and of the starting point of the African Diaspora.
The property contains all the significant remains of forts and castles along the coast.
Some of the ruins are susceptible to wave action. The sea has attacked a major part of Fort Prinzenstein but its protection has been enhanced by the construction of a sea defence wall, and efforts are being made to stabilise the remaining parts.
The sites overall remains vulnerable to environmental pressures, development pressure including localized quarrying, and lack of adequate funding for the regular maintenance and conservation of the sites. There are also no buffer zones.
The forts and castles were periodically altered, extended and modified to suit changing circumstances and new needs. In their present conditions, they demonstrate that history of change. As symbols of trade, and particularly the slave trade, they need to continue to reflect the way they were used.
Protection and management requirements
The Castles and Forts have been respectively established and protected as National Monuments under the National Liberation Council Decree (N.L.C.D) 387 of 1969 and Executive Instrument (E.I.) 29 of 1973. All sites are in the custody of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB). Also James Fort, Accra, and Fort William, Anomabu, are no longer in use as prisons and have been handed over to the GMMB.
The Monuments Division of the GMMB provides technical advice and management. Regular state-of-conservation inspections are undertaken. Priority programmes are established to help ensure that appropriate interventions are carried out
The existing legislative framework is to be reviewed, and it is expected that a new legal framework will enhance the existence of the heritage resources, the socio-economic developments and improve the quality of life of the local inhabitants.
A management plan still needs to be prepared. There is an on-going need to ensure adequate resources and training for staff, and to demarcate the boundaries of the sites and establish buffer zones.
The remains of fortified trading-posts established between 1482 and 1786 can still be seen along the coast of Ghana between Keta and Beyin. They were links in the trade routes established by the Portuguese in many areas of the world during their era of great maritime exploration.
Accra was first settled at the end of the 16th century when the Ga people migrated there. The site allowed them to engage in trade with the Europeans who had built forts nearby, the most important of these being James Fort and Ussher Fort. These early inhabitants also engaged in farming and lagoon fishing, with sea fishing taken up during the middle of the 18th century. During the slave trade Accra took on greater importance owing to the nearby forts, many of which were owned and controlled by the Dutch, a prominence that lasted until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807.
In Accra, competition between the different European states was strong and having a fort at Accra was of great strategic value, as it lay at the end of an important inland trade route. The forts and castles were built and occupied at different times by European traders and adventurers from Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany and Britain to safeguard trading posts. The castles defended the European merchants and their local allies and trading partners against competition; they were used as entrepôts for slaves and trade-goods, and they were the centres of European administration on the Gold Coast.
Ussher Fort is one of three European forts in Accra which have survived to the present day, the others being Christiansborg Castle (known locally as 'The Castle') and James Fort. It was built as Fort Crêvecoeur by the Dutch in 1649. In the 18th century Fort Crêvecoeur played an important role in the slave trade. Afterwards, its history remained closely linked to the history of what was formerly known as Dutch Accra, nowadays Ussher Town, just north of the fort. Fort Crêvecoeur was once more destroyed in 1862, when an earthquake hit Accra. Partly reconstructed, the fort was handed over to the British in 1868 and renamed Ussher Fort. Soon after, the British started using Ussher Fort, as well as the nearby James Fort, as a prison. They enlarged the fort considerably and the original Dutch fort is now almost indistinguishable. In 1993, the fort ceased to function as a prison, when it was taken over by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board, who now uses part of the building as offices.
In 1652 the Swedes built a lodge in Accra that in 1660 was taken by the Dutch. In 1661 the Danes occupied the place and built a fort named Fort Christiansborg, located on a rock cliff near the African town of Osu. The fort was in Danish hands for some 200 years apart from a short Portuguese occupation. In 1680 a Portuguese ship arrived at the Danish fort and its Governor sold it to the Portuguese commander of the ship. The Portuguese renamed it Fort São Francisco Xavier and built a chapel. In 1683 the Danes from nearby Fort Fredriksborg reoccupied it and moved their headquarters there. The fort was square in plan, with four bastions. The Danes made several attempt to establish plantations near the fort and they also established in the early 1800s a hill-station and a plantation at Frederiksborg. In 1850 it was sold to the English. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC