Obviously any guide book you pick up is going to tell you a great deal more in history, visiting times and the like about the many fortifications that populate Cape Coast. I visited the three main ones and found them interesting, but more for the history that I learned and the view that I saw than for any feat of architecture. So, for whatever it’s worth is what I took away in the order of interest.
Easily seen from most of the town as it is quite central. You can get a good view of the whole thing from the back of the Catholic cathedral. Technically, this fort is free to visit and quite large, which would make it more interesting that Victoria but there happens to be a family or two that is living (probably squatting) in the tower. They’re nice folk and if you don’t mind their laundry being strewn about, one of their kids will take you around the thing and try to give a brief bit of history, although you’ll probably have to do more asking than you’d like as it’s nothing official.
The view is quite nice. Given that this used to be the lighthouse for the town, it makes sense. Of course, everything for the lighthouse has long been stripped out and due to the families there, you can’t really go in to much of the rest of it. You can ascend the steps, although you should mind your head. I’m pretty tall at 191cm, but even folks shorter than that will need to duck quite a good deal to go up. I’ve no idea how short the British were who built this thing.
I’m not really sure how it’s supposed to work after the “tour” although in theory whatever you tip is for the kids. I gave a Cedi although I’ll bet that even half that would suffice since this is all under the table and if word got out they were charging for tours, they’d probably get bounced.
This fort has the distinction of being the highest point in Cape Coast. Naturally, this kicks a wee bit of arse in that every angle from it is a stunning view over the town and you could see how they could unleash hell on any ship that had the misfortune of approaching with bad intentions. But the fort itself is incredibly small. It’s basically just a turret with a sketchy ladder up the side of it that allows you to walk to a cannon on each cardinal point. Oh, there’s also a tunnel that used to run underground all the way to the main castle which they are working to restore. That’s it, which may seem like a waste of a perfectly good Cedi to go and see, except that you get a guide who goes up with you. The fellow who escorted me was named Dennis and he was fantastic. He was a great talker who really went over all the history and the fact that Cape Coast has so many firsts for Ghana (first school, church, town hall, court, hospital, etc.) Most folks might be content to let the man say his piece, take their photos, and be done with it, but don’t stop at that. If you ask him about any building, he can tell you everything you want to know about it and he’s more than happy to point out the house where former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was born (yes, I took a photo).
Your mileage may vary with this trip, but I recommend it. If nothing else, it’s about $0.66 USD to show that people are interested in the fort and that the government should spend a bit of money to give it a new paint job and fix that funky ladder, if not excavate and restore the tunnel to the castle, which would be really cool. Ah, and you’re suppose to tip the guide (hopefully Dennis for you) a Cedi or whatever more you feel is generous. Again, a Cedi well-spent.
Oh yeah, don’t take any photos of the Mighty Victory Hotel next door. They get super pissed I found out. More on that in some later article.
Yeah, it’s just ‘The Castle’ and the reason for that is because it is the biggest fortress in Cape Coast, with the most history and the most impact on the town. Obviously the vast majority of this was having the notoriety of being what was probably the second largest point of slave shipping to the Americas, Elmina (a little further down and much older) being the largest.
The structure has been restored well. If I understood the guide correctly, it had laid abandoned from something like 100 years before they began restoration work of it. Some aspects of it are a big cheesy such as the “Door of no Return” which was built out as an actual door instead of what was basically a dingy hole that the slaves were essentially shoved through before being put on the row boats from where they saw their last glimpse of their homelands. The tour overall isn’t really all that much. I suppose if you aren’t prone to reading, then it makes sense, but I feel like I could have found my way round and absorbed it in my own way a goo deal better.
Probably the biggest let down was that I was on the tour with my fellow Americans, a number of whom were black Americans. I was really disappointed how these guys asked more inane questions about the length of the tunnels, how big the doors were, if cell bars were original, and tried to show the guide that they knew more than he did (they most surely didn’t) instead of taking in the magnitude of what this was. My ancestors were all peasant Europeans who came to the US at the start of the 20th century and as far as I know, had no involvement in African slavery, yet I get the feeling I got more out of the tour than these guys, which really made me wonder why on earth they bothered to make such a long trip? I suppose it’s hard to absorb something like this and asking dumb questions was their way of deflecting what this all meant. I’m guessing it’s either that or they were just idiots, although I’d prefer to think the former.
Otherwise, The Castle is nice to walk around. If you happen to be there before noon, you’ll see the fisherman bringing in their catches to the east, which is enjoyable to sit and watch all the bustle that comes with selling off the morning catch. All the rooms that are open have been nicely fixed up. One hall on the top floor has a photo exhibit of all the major former European forts along the coast, which is definitely worth a look as most people won’t have the time to see all of them.
The museum is quite well done and documents the beginnings of what was honest trade and how it descended in to the trafficking of fellow human beings. It also covers the dizzying change of hands of Cape Coast from the Portuguese to the Dutch to the Swedes to the Danes back to the Swedes and eventually to the English, who very properly appropriated it for a tidy sum as opposed to stooping to the evils of war. And the museum covers the outcome in the modern day of this slave trade from what happened to the Africans in the US to the independence of Ghana to those in the African Diaspora working to trace their roots. Lastly of course, any tour ends with the plaque put up in honor of Barack and Michelle Obama’s visit just last month on July 11th. Apparently Michelle was also made a chieftain as she claims Ghanaian roots. I had no idea, but it is definitely quite feasible.
The full cost of a visit to the museum is nine Cedi and yes, it’s worth it. If you’re in Ghana, make the trip and learn about a very dark part in world history that is presented in a very impartial manner.