The Castles

A site uniquely positioned to tell the story of site of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is in the midst of two historic castles. The Elmina Castle, was the first slave castle to be constructed on the African continent in 1482. The Cape Coast Castle, built by the Swedes in 1653, was the continent’s largest and most traversed trading post. An estimated 1,209,000 Africans embarked on slave ships from the Gold Coast destined for the Americas and Europe.

Elmina Castle


Built in 1482 by Portuguese traders, the Elmina Castle was originally known as Sao Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mines), the first trading post and oldest European building in sub-Saharan Africa. The castle was originally built for the purpose of trading in gold and ivory. It later became one of the major posts for the slave trade especially to Brazil and the Caribbean under Dutch rule between 1637 and 1774.
Its dungeons, housed as many as 1,500 captured Africans at a time, between six to twelve weeks duration, under the most abhorrent of conditions. Outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever were common due to the unsanitary conditions while waiting to go through the notorious “Door of No Return”. By the 18th century, approximately 30,000 captured Africans boarded ships annually across the Atlantic, which voyage is known as the Middle Passage on their way to North and South America for a life of enslavement.

Today, the Elmina Castle is preserved as a national museum and has been designated as a World Heritage site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Cape Coast Castle


The Cape Coast Castle is a fortress that was built by the Swedes in 1653 who named it Carolusburg after King Charles X of Sweden. The close proximity of the Cape Coast Castle to Elmina Castle made it a desirable location for trade and the exploitation of the Gold Coast’s natural resources of gold, timber and later, its people.

The coveted castle was captured and seized by the British in 1664 and later became the seat of the colonial government of the British Gold Coast. In 1874, Britain abolished slavery in the Gold Coast which was renamed Ghana after it gained its independence on March 6, 1957. Since its’ original construction, the castle has gone through several major renovations and is now under the care of the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB).

Sources of Information:

Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade by David Eltis and David Richardson.