Why You Should Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ghana
10 October, 2019: The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) comprises a World Heritage Convention responsible for assessing and assigning protected status, or “World Heritage Site” status, to landmarks around the world that are great natural or cultural importance and should be preserved. This designation comes with responsibility on the part of each country to regularly report back on the state of conservation of their World Heritage properties and to promote appreciation and enhance protection of these sites through education and information programmes. There is a treasure trove of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ghana just waiting to be explored, some of which have been officially assigned World Heritage Site status and others that are still on the World Heritage Convention’s tentative list. Among sites that have been awarded official status, the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO lists Asante traditional buildings and forts and castles in the Volta Region, the Greater Accra Region, the Central Region, and the Western Region. Still on the tentative list are:
- Mole National Park (2000)
- Tenzug – Tallensi settlements (2000)
- Navrongo Catholic Cathedral (#) (2000)
- Nzulezu Stilt Settlement (2000)
- Trade Pilgrimage Routes of North-Western Ghana (2000), and
- Kakum National Park (Assin Attandanso Reserve) (#) (2000)
Asante Traditional Buildings That Are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ghana
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ghana include Asante traditional buildings. These buildings represent the last material remains of the great Asante civilization that reached its height in the 18th century. The Asante people are one of many people of the Akan ethnic group speaking the Twi-Fante Akan language, a group that also includes the Akuapem, Akwamu, Akyem (Twi speakers), Agona, Kwahu, Wassa, Fante (Fanti/Mfantse speakers), and Bono ethnicities as well as subgroups of the Anyin, Baoulé, Chakosi, Sefwi, Nzema, Ahanta, and Jwira-Pepesa ethnicities (Bia speakers). Together, people of the Akan group share cultural attributes such as language, the tracing of matrilineal descent and property inheritance, and succession to high political office.
The word Asante literally means “because of war” (asa means “war” and nti means “because of”) and is claimed to have been adopted when several Akan clans in the tropical forest region of Ghana led by the Oyoko clan united with the shared mission of conquering the Denkyira kingdom to the south. The variant name “Ashanti” is used interchangeably with Asante and came about as a result of the word “Asante” being poorly transcribed by British colonists. The historical Asante Empire (1670-1957) thus originated in the tropical forest–dominated Asante/Ashanti Region and expanded to include the Brong-Ahafo, Central, Eastern, Greater Accra, and Western Regions of Ghana. The empire possessed great military prowess and wealth and is renowned for its culture, architecture, and sophisticated hierarchy.
The late Asante king, Osei Tutu (1670-1717), together with his royal advisor Okomfo Anokye, famously established the Asante Kingdom, using the Golden Stool as a unifying symbol of the kingdom and growing the king’s rule all the way south to the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean via the notable conquest of the town of Denkyira. Later, in 1868, Denkyira joined the Fante Confederacy and the alliance of Great Britain against the Ashanti and Dutch peoples, finally becoming a part of the Gold Coast region and then part of the Central Region in the present-day Republic of Ghana. Meanwhile, today, the Ashanti Kingdom lives on as a constitutionally protected, sub-national proto-state and traditional state within with the Republic of Ghana. Its current monarch is Asantehene (literally “Asante king”) Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, its economy still relies on the trade of gold, among others commodities, and its Golden Stool—locally known as Sika Dwa Kofi (literally “the Golden Stool born on a Friday”)—remains a sacred symbol of the monarchy believed to embody the spirit of the Asante nation, living, dead, and yet to come.
The Asante traditional buildings are part of the very important history of the Asante Kingdom of Ghana, which is why you should visit them. They are located north-east of Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti Region, and are made of earth, wood, and straw. As a result of their construction materials, they are particularly vulnerable to the ravages of time and weather and therefore meritorious of UNESCO World Heritage Site protection.
Forts and Castles That Are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ghana
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ghana include forts and castles located throughout the Volta Region, the Greater Accra Region, the Central Region, and the Western Region—Ghana’s southernmost regions that line the coast of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. These forts and castles are vestiges of colonial-era fortified trading posts and were constructed between 1482 and 1786, mostly by the Portuguese. The forts and castles of southern Ghana have through the centuries been occupied by traders from Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Germany, and Britain, first serving as the gold trade and later the slave trade. Some were renovated by each wave of successive colonist while others lie in ruin.
There are a total of 3 castles and 26 forts comprising UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ghana.
1. Cape Coast Castle
2. St. George’s d’Elmina Castle
3. Christiansborg Castle
St. George’s d’Elmina Castle (São Jorge da Mina Castle), or simply Elmina Castle, was built in 1482 and is one of the oldest European buildings outside of Europe as well as the oldest UNESCO World Heritage castle in Ghana and, indeed, in sub-Saharan Africa. The town of Elmina, surrounding the castle, is believed to be the first point of contact between Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans. For more on the cultural relevance of castles in Ghana, read this article.
1. Good Hope at Senya Beraku
2. Patience at Apam
3. Amsterdam at Abandzi
4. St. Jago at Elmina
5. San Sebastian at Shama
6. Metal Cross at Dixcove
7. St. Anthony at Axim
8. Orange at Sekondi
9. Groot Fredericksborg at Princesstown
10. William (Lighthouse) at Cape Coast
11. William at Anomabu
12. Victoria at Cape Coast
13. Ussher at Usshertown, Accra
14. James at Jamestown, Accra
15. Apollonia at Beyin
There are, additionally, four forts that are partially in ruins:
1. Amsterdam at Abandzi
2. English Fort at British Komenda
3. Batenstein at Butre
4. Prinzensten at Keta
There are also four more ruins with visible structures:
1. Nassau at Mouri
2. Fredensborg at Old Ningo
3. Vredenburg at Dutch Komenda
4. Vernon at Prampram
5. Dorothea at Akwida
And, finally, there are two forts with traces of former fortifications:
1. Frederiksborg at Amanful, Cape Coast
2. Augustaborg at Teshie, Accra
The castles and forts of Ghana, due to their use in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, have shaped the history of the world over four centuries and are an emotive point of departure for the African Diaspora, which is why you should visit them. As they are all located close to the sea, they remain susceptible to erosion by salty sea water in addition to other environmental pressures and have therefore been meritorious of UNESCO World Heritage protection as well as Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB) protection, which has helped safeguard their preservation.
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