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Ghana: Elmina

Fort St Jago, Elmina
Beautiful Fort St Jago overlooks the busy fishing harbour of Elmina

A short distance west of Cape Coast is yet another perfect example of Ghana's coastal fortifications; Elmina boasts not one but two World Heritage forts, and after the moving experience of visiting Cape Coast Castle I didn't waste any time in hopping in a shared taxi for a day trip to Elmina.

St George's Castle

St George's Castle, Elmina
St George's Castle from Fort St Jago

By far the bigger of the two fortifications, St George's Castle is also the older, and the one that's most geared up for tourism. As at Cape Coast the castle contains an informative museum, though interestingly the museum at St George's hardly mentions slavery at all, and doesn't go into great detail about the castle itself, instead concentrating on the local people and their way of life. If you only visited Elmina and didn't have time to explore Cape Coast too, you could be forgiven for thinking that St George's Castle was hardly involved in the slave trade at all. You would, however, be wrong; as with Cape Coast, the history of St George's makes pretty ugly reading.

A decorated wall inside St George's Castle
Intricate wall decorations inside St George's Castle

In the 1570s, Augustinian monks embarked on [the] evangelization of Elmina. The Augustinian evangelization suddenly ended when the monks were killed.

Undeterred, the Portuguese built a Franciscan church on what is now St Jago's Hill and dedicated it to St George, in the process building the first Christian church in Ghana and the first known Christian church in Africa outside Ethiopia. A walled town developed around the castle and by the early 1600s it was a self-governing city state, ruled by the Edina chief, his elders and the Portuguese governor of St George's Castle.

The main courtyard of St George's Castle
The main courtyard of St George's Castle is enclosed by tall buildings
A cannon beneath a palm tree
These days the cannons are idle, a reminder of days long past

Fort St Jago

Fort St Jago seen through an arch in St George's Castle
Fort St Jago as seen from St George's Castle

As you wander round St George's Castle, one of the more delightful aspects is the way its twin, Fort St Jago, keeps flitting into view through the windows and turrets. Perched on top of a small hill across the fishing harbour from St George's Castle, Fort St Jago is small and perfectly formed. In keeping with its pleasant aspect, it doesn't share the dark secrets of its bigger brother, for while the Portuguese and the Dutch herded slaves through St George's as quickly as they could, Fort St Jago simply sat there, looking down on the travesty below without comment.

The courtyard of Fort St Jago
The courtyard of Fort St Jago
The Dutch cemetery in Elmina
The old Dutch cemetery in Elmina

Around Elmina

Posuban number 5, Elmina
Posuban number 5, with its completely bizare rooftop concrete ship

From the fort you can also spot one or two posubans, their concrete decorations cracking in the sun. Posubans are buildings that are peculiar to the Ghanaian coastal region, and peculiar is the right word; they might be utterly Ghanaian in concept, but disappointingly they look like they could be from anywhere in the world... anywhere with a bizarre taste for tacky decoration, that is.

Posuban number 4
Posuban number 4 in all its glory
Posuban number 4, Elmina
Posuban number 4's figures are suffering from concrete cancer