Axim and Fort Saint Anthony

At around 20,000 people, Axim is the westernmost city of any size in Ghana. We took a weekend trip here, staying at the fabulous Ankobra Resort, and checking out both the town and its amazing old Portuguese/Dutch fort, Saint Anthony.

Our hotel was located about a few kilometers away from Axim, along the beach, and we decided to walk into town. It took about 40 minutes, and although it was nice to stroll along the beach, it’s probably not the most beautiful way to approach Axim — we went past a noisy construction team installing new wave-breakers along the coast, and then into a rundown neighborhood, where our appearance caused confusion among the local children, followed by immense joy. Apparently, not many tourists make it to Axim, and even fewer find themselves in this area of town.

It didn’t take us long to realize that Axim is far from the most exciting city in Ghana. Besides the fort, there are a couple ruined colonial buildings haunting the hilltops… and that’s about it. Axim is not a place you’ll want to spend a ton of time in; I don’t even know if you could. If you come here, you come for the beaches, and resorts like the Lou Moon Lodge (reportedly wonderful) and the Ankobra, where we were staying.

But there is one big reason to make an excursion into the town, and that’s Fort Saint Anthony. The second oldest fort in West Africa after Elmina’s, it was built in 1515 by the Portuguese. Saint Anthony was sold in 1642 to the Dutch, and then again in 1872 to the British. As with other forts along the Gold Coast, the original purpose was as a base for the peaceful trade of materials… though soon enough, it would later be used as a slaving center. The construction was much the same as the fort in Elmina; gleaming white walls, and a size which absolutely dwarfs the town’s other buildings. There’s naturally a great view over the surrounding area, and dark dungeons in which slaves bound for America were kept.

What made our visit to Fort Saint Anthony special was our tour guide, who seemed almost relieved by our appearance. Axim’s fort gets none of the tourism enjoyed by those of Elmina and Cape Coast… in fact, he told us that it been several days since the last foreigners had found their way here, and seemed about ready to jump out of his skin. So, we were treated to a high-energy tour with a guide that was happy to take his time and explain every bit of history he knew.

After our tour, we sat down in the shade on one of the fort’s many staircases, gathering our strength before leaving Axim. The guide joined us; he was a kid of maybe 19 or 20 years, and full of questions. He wanted to know about our countries, jobs, cultures, families, favorite foods, what we thought of Ghana, other places we had been, and so on. It was fun to have such a wide-ranging chat, and it helped him pass the time. It’s funny the way the brain works — St. Anthony was obviously impressive, but I already find it easier to remember details of our long conversation in the shade, than architectural details or historic facts of the fort.

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