Cape Coast Castle is one of about forty "slave castles", or large commercial forts, built on the Gold Coast of West Africa (now Ghana) by European traders. It was originally built by the Swedes for trade in timber and gold, but later used in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Other Ghanaian slave castles include Elmina Castle and Fort Christiansborg. They were used to hold slaves before they were loaded onto ships and sold in the Americas, especially the Caribbean. This "gate of no return" was the last stop before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
The large quantity of gold dust found in Ghana was what primarily attracted Europe, and many natives of Cape Coast used this to their advantage. In exchange for gold, mahogany, their own people and other local items, the natives received clothing, blankets, spices, sugar, silk and many other items. The castle at Cape Coast was a market where these transactions took place.
At the time slaves were a valuable commodity in the Americas and elsewhere, and slaves became the principal item traded in Cape Coast. Due to this, many changes were made to Cape Coast Castle. One of the alterations was the addition of large underground dungeons that could hold as many as a thousand slaves awaiting export. Many European nations flocked to Cape Coast in order to get a foothold in the slave trade. Business was very competitive and this led to conflict. This is the reason why the castle at Cape Coast changed hands many times during the course of its commercial history.