Elmina

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Description

Ghana has long been a source of gold in West Africa. In 1482 the Portuguese built a fortress originally called Castelo São Jorge da Mina (“The Mine”) at the Benya Lagoon on the Ghana coast, in order to secure their control of the gold trade. This was the earliest European trading station in sub-Saharan Africa and the African town near this centre of commerce became known as Elmina. In 1637 the fortress was captured by the Dutch. It was the Dutch headquarters in West Africa until 1872, when it was taken over by the British. A year later the town was destroyed because of resistance to British authority. African towns near European trading stations often themselves became trading centres, through which European goods went to the interior, in exchange for local products and slaves, many of whom were shipped to slave plantations in the Americas. By the 17th century enslaved Africans superseded gold as the major export from coastal Ghana. As the site of the European trading headquarters Elmina steadily increased in size and at the time of its destruction in 1873 the population may have been 20 000. This growth was accompanied by profound social changes as the town became a centre for trade and specialised production, eventually emerging as an independent state. This was possible through a combination of shifting power dynamics, mainly alliances with European and other African political centres, and the proliferation of firearms.

Elmina Castle is very well preserved today and has been studied intensively from architectural, archaeological, and historical points of view. Much of the original Portuguese building remains, although it was modified extensively by the Dutch and recent renovations. The site of the original town is buried beneath the parade ground in front of the Castle. Nevertheless, in places some stone foundations of the houses are visible. In modern Elmina, the Dutch Fort Coenraadsburg on St Jago Hill, traces of other Dutch fortifications, and a few 19th century AD buildings are monuments to Elmina's turbulent and varied past.

Elmina Castle

This is the larger of the two forts in Elmina, and was the first built by the Portuguese along the Gold Coast in 1482. It is also claimed that Elmina Castle is the oldest European building in sub-Saharan Africa.

Fort St Jago

This is the smaller fort in Elmina, built by the Dutch in the 17th century AD.


Further reading:
DeCorse, C. 1997. Western African historical archaeology. In Vogel, J. O. ed. Encyclopedia of precolonial Africa: 545-549. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press.
Kea, R. 2000. Agency, belief & the social imaginary in Gold Coast towns. In Anderson, D. M. & Rathbone, R. eds Africa's urban past: 163-188. Oxford: James Currey.
Kelly, K. G. 1997. Slave trade in Africa. In Vogel, J. O. ed. Encyclopedia of precolonial Africa: 532-535. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press.




Acknowledgement:
These texts are based primarily on informations on the Aluka website (aluka.org)