The city of Cape Coast in Ghana is an interesting place, with a rich colonial past, that is easily recognizable in the old buildings, and especially in the fort, that stands on the cliff where the powerful waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash.
The fishermen port swarms with people, it is impossible not to notice the frenetic activity of the fishermen and of the women who prepare the fish for the market and for the smoking.
Cape Coast was born on the East bank of the Fosu lagoon and, over the centuries, during the colonial period, saw the Portuguese, the Danes, the Swedes, the Dutch and finally the English alternate to its command, who established the headquarters here of the Britain's Royal African Company in 1664; subsequently Cape Coast became the first capital of the British colony of the Gold Coast.
Cape Coast is also known by the two old traditional local names: Kotokuraba and Oguaa.
Kotokuraba means "river of crabs" and obviously refers to the abundance of these creatures in the area, shellfish very appreciated for their sweet meats.
Oguaa derives from the word Akan "gua" that means "market" and the name suggests the importance of the village as a center of exchange, even before the arrival of the Europeans.
The importance of Cape Coast resided precisely in being the meeting point between the maritime routes of the European powers and the ancient terrestrial routes for trade with the Sahel.
The large amount of gold in this part of Africa was what attracted mainly the European powers, and many Cape Coast natives used this craving for gold to their advantage.
In return for gold and timber, especially mahogany, and other local objects, the natives received clothes, blankets, spices, sugar, silk, and many other items; the market in which these exchanges took place was in Cape Coast.
Over time, the traded goods were originally replaced by slaves, who were sold to European merchants by the natives, who raided the people inland and then sold them on the coast.
The castle of Cape Coast is today the main attraction of the city and it was the place where the slaves, arrived here from Nigeria and Burkina Faso, were brought and imprisoned, before being boarded on the ships directed to the Americas.
The castle is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains within it a very well-made museum dedicated to the slave trade and the colonial period; moreover, it is possible to experience in first person the narrow environments where slaves were heaped waiting to set sail for an uncertain destiny.
The first to erect a fort in this place were the Portuguese, who had baptized the coast Cabo Corso, but later abandoned the fort in favor of other ports, were then the Swedes in 1652 to occupy the area and the fort; only six years later were the Danes to conquer the fort thanks to an agreement with a local leader.
It was then the Dutch, who at the time were the dominant European power in the region, to make Cape Coast an important center of the slave trade.
Following the Anglo-Dutch War of 1664-65, won by the British Empire, Cape Coast became a key point of the Gulf of Guinea and the castle was further expanded, its underground dungeons were able to hold up to 1,500 slaves, making it de facto the largest center of West Africa for the slave trade.
During the colonial era, Cape Coast was the place where thousands of people were sold to white merchants, especially from the Ashanti kingdom, in exchange for alcohol and weapons.
The castle is a white building that overlooks a large courtyard, open on the Atlantic Ocean, where the market of both goods and men took place, during the ordinary market days there was no trace of the human trade, who were kept segregated in the basements of the fortress.
The white of the building, the courtyard with mounds of old cannon balls and the walls caressed by the ocean breeze make this place a charming and pleasant location and this contrasts much with its dark past.
Going down into the dungeons there are three large rooms where slaves were heaped, for a period ranging from 2 to 12 weeks, before being boarded.
In the cells, wet and dark, men and women were kept separate; even today these spaces have the floor covered with a substance that, following the analyzes carried out, turned out to be cement, sand and stool cemented together.
In fact, when the slaves went out to be embarked, the cells were not cleaned but the sand was thrown over the excrement and blood, before entering the new group of slaves and this was done for years and years.
One can only imagine the conditions in which the unfortunates, who ended here, lived in the dark, without baths and without the possibility of moving so long they were crammed.
The cell where the slaves condemned to death were imprisoned is the most claustrophobic, some in fact did not want to subjugate themselves to the wishes of the slavers and therefore their fate was marked; today, just outside the entrance of the fort, a voodoo altar has been placed to placate the spirits of those who never left these walls.
The slaves were led, thanks to an underground corridor, to the Door of No Return, this was the last stage of their stay in the fort before taking the sea route, it was a pokey and narrow door that forced the slaves to go out one at a time to be better controlled.
You can imagine what the effect of sunlight was on their eyes, accustomed to weeks in the dark in underground dungeons.