Built in 1482 by Portuguese traders, Elmina Castle was the first European slave-trading post in all of sub-saharan Africa. Located on the western coast of present-day Ghana, it was originally built to protect the gold trade but following its capture by the Dutch in 1637, it came to serve the Dutch slave trade with Brazil and the Caribbean. The castle came under British ownership in the 1800s.
Elmina, like other West African slave fortresses, housed luxury suites for the Europeans in the upper levels. The slave dungeons below were cramped and filthy, each cell often housing as many as 200 people at a time, without enough space to even lie down. The floor of the dungeon, as result of centuries of impacted filth and human excrement, is now several inches higher than it was when it was built. Outbreaks of malaria and yellow fever were common. Staircases led directly from the governor 's chambers to the women's dungeons below, making it easy for him to select personal concubines from amongst the women.
At the seaboard side of the castle was the Door of No Return, the infamous portal through which slaves boarded the ships that would take them on the treacherous journey across the Atlantic known as the Middle Passage. By the 18th century, 30,000 slaves on their way to North and South America passed through Elmina's Door of No Return each year.
Today, Elmina's economy is sustained by tourism and fishing. Elmina Castle is preserved as a Ghanaian national museum and monument and is designated as a World Heritage Monument under UNESCO. It offers daily historical tours and is an extremely popular destination for African American tourists seeking to connect with their heritage.
Compiled by Jamila White
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