Accra, capital and largest city of Ghana, on the Gulf of Guinea (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean). The city lies partly on a cliff, 25 to 40 feet (8 to 12 metres) high, and spreads northward over the undulating Accra plains. The area’s susceptibility to faulting is the cause of occasional earthquakes.
When the Portuguese first settled on the coast of what is now Ghana in 1482, the present site of Accra was occupied by several villages of the Ga tribe, ruled from a parent settlement, Ayaso (Ayawaso), located about 15 miles (24 km) north. Between 1650 and 1680 the Europeans built three fortified trading posts—Fort James (English), Fort Crevecoeur (Dutch), and Christiansborg Castle (Danish)-along the coast in the locality. While these European posts were being constructed, Ayaso was destroyed in a tribal war, and its population, together with that of the other major Ga towns on the Accra plains, was drawn to the coast by the prospect of profitable trade with the Europeans. As a result, three coastal villages—Osu (Christiansborg), Dutch Accra (later called Ussher Town), and James Town—sprang up, becoming the nuclei of what was to be Accra. The name Accra itself is a corruption of the Akan word nkran. It refers to the black ants that abound in the vicinity. It came to be applied to the inhabitants of this part of the Accra plains.
Accra grew into a prosperous trading centre. The Danes and the Dutch left the region in 1850 and 1872, respectively, and in 1877 Accra became the capital of the British Gold Coast colony. In 1898 a municipal council was formed to improve the town. By the 1930s Accra was systematically laid out.
Accra is the administrative, economic, and educational centre of Ghana. The city contains the head offices of all of the large banks and trading firms, the insurance agencies, the electricity corporation, the general post office, the large open markets to which most of the food supply comes, and the Accra Central Library.
In addition to the forts, important buildings include the Korle Bu General Hospital, which also houses the Ghana Medical School; the Holy Spirit (Roman Catholic), Holy Trinity (Anglican), and Methodist cathedrals; the national archives; and the national museum. Also located in the city are the offices of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences. The University of Ghana (1948) is located at Legon, to the north. In addition, there are a football (soccer) stadium and a race course in the city. Independence Arch, in Black Star Square, is used for ceremonial parades.
Accra has well-paved roads and a good municipal bus service. A transportation hub, the city is also connected by rail to Kumasi, in the interior, and to the port city of Tema, 17 miles (27 km) to the east, which has taken over Accra’s port function. Accra is the site of Kotoka International Airport. The city’s chief manufactures are processed food, lumber, and textiles.