Fort Sao Jorge da Mina

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Elmina Castle
Fort Sao Jorge da Mina in Elmina
17th century view of Elmina
slave cellar

The Fort São Jorge da Mina (now called St. George's Castle or also Elmina Castle ) was built in 1482 by the Portuguese on the Gold Coast , today's Ghana in the place called Elmina by the Portuguese . São Jorge da Mina thus became the first Portuguese and European fort in sub-Saharan Africa . The historical importance of the fort is that it was the headquarters of the Portuguese in West Africa from 1482 until the Dutch conquest in 1637, and then the headquarters of the Dutch in West Africa. The fort played asDutch possession also played a crucial role in the rise of the Ashanti Empire , which was allied with the Dutch . From 1872 until Ghana's independence the fort was British.

The Portuguese Castle of Sao Jorge da Mina

The foundation stone for the fortress was laid on January 21, 1482 by the Portuguese seafarer Diogo de Azambuja , who, on behalf of the Portuguese King John II , commanded a fleet of nine ships, around 600 sailors and soldiers and around 100 craftsmen and servants today's Elmina reached. Here he made an agreement with a local ruler whom the Portuguese sources call Caramansa . His officers also included the later famous Bartolomeu Diaz . Diogo de Azambuja was also the first Portuguese governor, capitão-mor , of Elmina for the following two years. Even after the Portuguese established further bases in West Africa, São Jorge da Mina remained their most important trading, supply and military base in this region. Here they exchanged ivory, gold, pepper, sugar and later increasingly slaves . The post of governor of São Jorge da Mina was considered one of the most important positions in the Portuguese Empire in the 16th century , although the garrison was not very large: the garrison of the fortress in this period consisted of the governor with ten European subordinates, one steward with four men under him, two scribes, an apothecary, a doctor, a blacksmith, a cooper (cooper), a provisions master, a stonemason, a carpenter, several priests and about 20-60 soldiers. In 1486, São Jorge da Mina received city rights and a wall was built around the African village, which the Portuguese called Aldeia das Duas Partes . Around 1500 conversion of locals to Catholicism began and in 1503 a chapel was built on a hill outside the fort. The intensity of the Portuguese influence can also be seen from the fact that a Portuguese-based creole language soon developed here in dealings with the Africans , which remained alive into the 18th century .

Conquest by the Dutch

Elmina Castle in a 1668 view

By the late 16th century, the Portuguese had found competition in West Africa from the rising naval power of the Dutch . In several bloody attempts they tried to conquer the fort. In 1596 a Dutch expedition, equipped by the purely commercial trading house Moucheron, unsuccessfully attacked the fortress for the first time. On September 16, 1606, 600 soldiers landed at the Dutch Fort Nassau in the nearby town of Moree and marched along the coast to São Jorge da Mina. However, they were repelled by the soldiers of the then Portuguese governor Cristóvão de Melo . In December of the same year and in January 1607 they made further attacks before giving up and retreating. When in 1615 an earthquake damaged the fortress and a bastion collapsed, the Dutch made three unsuccessful attempts at conquest. Finally, in 1625, a fleet of 15 ships, 1,200 Dutch soldiers and 150 African allies under the command of Admiral Jan Dirikszon Lam dropped anchor near Elmina. At that time the fortress was manned by only 56 soldiers under the governor Dom Francisco Sotomaior . The Dutch bombed the fort but were repulsed by Portugal's African allies, and 500 Dutch soldiers lost their lives. In 1637 the Dutch returned with 9 ships and 800 men, landed at present-day Cape Coast and joined up with 1000-1400 African allies. Divided into three columns, they marched towards São Jorge da Mina. They conquered the hill with the chapel mentioned above and bombarded the fort from here. After a few days, on August 29, 1637, the Portuguese garrison had to surrender.

São Jorge da Mina as a Dutch fortress

Historical view (17th century) of Forts São Jorge and Santo Iago da Mina

The Dutch left a garrison of 175 in their newly acquired fort and future headquarters for West Africa. In order to prevent enemy conquerors from proceeding in the same way as they did in the future, they first fortified the hill with the Portuguese chapel, from which they had succeeded in taking the fortress. First only with earth walls, later they built a second, smaller fort here, Fort Sao Jago da Mina or Fort Conraadsburg . They also significantly expanded the old fort and rebuilt it as it still exists today. In the mid- 17th century the Dutch garrison consisted of 83 men and 184 slaves within the fort. In 1872 they sold São Jorge da Mina and their remaining Gold Coast possessions to the British.

St George's Castle

View of the coast from the fortress

The British translated the Portuguese name into English, made it the seat of the governor and now called the complex St. George's Castle. In addition to Christiansborg or "Osu Castle" and Cape Coast Castle , St. George's Castle is the third residential castle on the coast of Ghana.

After the British conquest of the Ashanti Empire , they took the Ashanti king ( Asantehene ) at the time, Kwaku Dua III. Asamu (also known as Agyeman Prempeh I) on January 17, 1896 and imprisoned him first in a cell on the top floor of St. George's Castle before they shipped him off to the Seychelles for exile.

St. George's Castle is now one of Ghana's main tourist attractions and has been a World Heritage Site since 1979 .

See also

web links

Commons : Elmina Castle  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Elmina Castle in Castles, Palaces & Fortresses. Retrieved April 14, 2020.

Coordinates: 5° 4' 58"  N , 1° 20' 54"  W