Elmina Castle was erected by the Portuguese in 1482 as Castelo de São Jorge da Mina (St. George of the Mine Castle), also known as Castelo da Mina or simply Mina (or Feitoria da Mina) in present-day Elmina, Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast). It was the first trading post built on the Gulf of Guinea, and the oldest European building in existence south of the Sahara. First established as a trade settlement, the castle later became one of the most important stops on the route of the Atlantic slave trade.
Renowned as the first major European construction in tropical Africa, St. George’s Castle, in the town of Elmina in the Central Region of Ghana, was founded by the Portuguese in 1482. The site of the Castle was selected by Portuguese navigators, as it was advantageously located at the end of a narrow promontory, a stone’s throw away from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Benya River. The lee of the low headland provided an excellent natural harbour.
St George’s Castle or ‘Sao Jorge da Mina’, after the patron-saint of Portugal, as the castle was known to the Portuguese, afforded the Portuguese a trade monopoly in the area, with unrivalled access to the region’s gold. The sheer magnitude of trade volumes resulted in labour challenges, as navies were unable to convey the large quantities of European goods to all markets. The importation of slaves from Benin in exchange for gold and ivory in the early 16th century was the identified solution. However, not long after, the influx of superior gold from Mexico into Europe caused gold prices to plummet rapidly. The economically distraught Portuguese were easily ousted from Elmina in 1637 by the Dutch.
The main Dutch trades were gold and slaves; they reconstructed the castle between 1770 and 1775. Until 1872, the castle served as the focal coordinating point for Dutch Gold Coast activities. In 1682, the author Jean Barbot described St. George’s Castle as having ‘no equal on all the coast of Guinea, with respect to beauty and strength. On 6th April, 1872, the castle was ceded to the British. In recent years, it has served as Police Recruit Training Centre, a secondary school, and it is presently a historical museum. St. George’s Castle is featured on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Next to the castle is a picturesque fishing harbour, and within walking distance are sites such as Fort Coenraadsburg (St. Jago), the Dutch cemetery, and the ‘Posuban’ buildings of Elmina.