Accra area guides • Jamestown
Your guide to the communities and historical sights of Jamestown – the birthplace of Accra
© Daniel Neilson
The oldest, and poorest, area of Accra is also one of the most alive. Jamestown is vibrant, smelly and noisy, sound-tracked by the clatter of pans, the babble of radios and the roar of exhausts. Low corrugated-iron roofs stand over painted shops, shacks and houses. Wandering chickens negotiate open drains and life-endangering potholes, while washing-cobwebbed courtyards play host to spontaneous football games.
It wasn't always quite like this. The district was once the hub for a succession of Portuguese governments, before the city became the capital of the British Gold Coast in 1877. Amid the ramshackle streets of today's Jamestown, the colonial handiwork can still be seen. And despite the apparent poverty, the quarter still makes for a safe and friendly place through which to wander during the day. More than anywhere else in Accra, there's an evident sense of community.
Two buildings dominate the waterfront skyline. Fort James, built by the British in the 17th century, commands views over the Atlantic from a perch above the fishing harbour. It served as a prison until recently and there's no chance of entering, but it's still compelling as a peeling, whitewashed memento of days past.
Also of historical interest (and also pretty dodgy photo-wise) is the nearby colonial-era lighthouse, built in the 1930s. It's not a tourist attraction in the usual sense - no gift shops or ticket offices here - but stray within twenty metres and you'll inevitably be accosted by a 'guide' offering to take you to the top for a few cedi (usually around GH¢5 each). If you're willing to part with the cash, there's a good panoramic view from the top of the (possibly not overly safe) spiral staircase.
© Daniel Neilson
A road from the lighthouse leads down to the harbour and fishing port, a superb spot to witness the riotous colours thrown up by the endless flotillas of traditional pirogues. Head down at daybreak to watch the beefy fishermen haul in their nightly catches (partly the reason that Jamestown, and the shanty of Bukom in particular, produces such good boxers). A security officer may insist on a bit of money - we suggest a guide.
Boxing in Accra is a serious business, and nowhere more so than in the quarter of Bukom - one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Jamestown. There are more than 20 boxing schools here. Joshua 'The Hitter' Clottey, Ike 'Bazooka' Quartey and Azumah 'The Professor' Nelson (named because of his ability to 'teach his opponents a lesson') all felt the smack of a fist and the crunch of the deck in Bukom. There is no other area of the world with this quantity of boxing schools, and there is no other place in the world that has produced so many world champion boxers in the last 75 years. Try the Greater Accra Boxing Association (+233 302 760 892) for details on bout, but they are usually fairly well publicised.
Inland from the harbour is another eye-catching remnant of the British era, the Methodist Church built from imported bricks.
Also of note is Brazil House (+233 208 173 143, Brazil Lane), a restored empire-era house that has been transformed into a museum chronicling the history of Ghana's Afro-Brazilian returnees. Known as the Tabom people (the reply to 'how are you?' in Portuguese is 'ta bom'), they returned to Accra as a 70-strong group on the British government's SS Salisbury in 1836. The boxer Azumah Nelson is a descendant of one of the returnees.
Jamestown, unsurprisingly, is also one of the most densely populated areas of the city. Ghanaian tradition stipulates that funerals should be held in the deceased's place of birth, and, as such, wakes can be witnessed almost every weekend. They tend to be admirably upbeat occasions.
Sights and attractions in Jamestown
This colonial-era lighthouse was built in the 1930s. It’s not a tourist attraction in the usual sense – no gift shops or ticket offices here – but stray within twenty metres and you’ll inevitably be accosted by a ‘guide’ offering to take
Towards the centre of Accra is Usher Town, which links seamlessly with Jamestown along High Street. Ussher Fort (High Street, 500m east of Jamestown Fort, +233 302 671 014) is the most important sight in this area. It was built by the Dutch who named it Fort Crevecoeur in 1649. It was later renamed Ussher Fort after a British administrator at the time. A former slave-holding area like Jamestown Fort, it was used as a prison until the 1990s. But now the former garrison is undergoing a UNESCO-funded restoration to promote the area's local heritage, develop new space for small businesses and increase tourism to the area, as well as preserving a reminder of Ghana's past.
Tours can currently be taken of the building, including a look at where Ghana's national hero, Kwame Nkrumah, was held.
Buffering Usher Town and the city centre is one of Accra's most thrilling experiences: Makola Market. Anything you could possibly hope to buy is within this sprawling maze. Like a contemporary souk, a network of passageways, roads, buildings and paths weave through the area. Hawkers, mostly women, sell an impossibly large array of produce, clothes and home supplies. Surprisingly, you are unlikely to be hassled much, this being is the market place for the city's residents. Not all tourists visit the area, but we certainly advise spending some time wandering this fascinating market.
Shops and markets
The loosely defined borders of Makola Market enclose what might be seen as Accra’s most dynamic commercial hub. It’s certainly one of the most entertaining. Hot, noisy and insistent, it’s an initially bewildering sprawl of kitchenware,
- Kojo Thompson Road and Independence Avenue.