Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, the town was called Anomansah ("perpetual" or "inexhaustable drink") from its position on the peninsula between the Benya lagoon and the sea.
In 1478 (during the War of the Castilian Succession), a Castilian armada of 35 caravels and a Portuguese fleet fought a large naval battle near Elmina for the control of the Guinea trade (gold, slaves, ivory and melegueta pepper). The war ended with a Portuguese naval victory, followed by the official recognition by the Catholic Monarchs of Portuguese sovereignty over most of the West African territories in dispute embodied in the Treaty of Alcáçovas,1479. This was the first colonial war among European powers. Many more would come.
The town grew around São Jorge da Mina Castle, built by the Portuguese Diogo de Azambuja in 1482 on the site of a town or village called Amankwakurom or Amankwa. It was Portugal's West African headquarters for trade and exploitation of African wealth. The original Portuguese interest was gold, with 8,000 ounces shipped to Lisbon from 1487 to 1489, 22,500 ounces from 1494 to 1496, and 26,000 ounces by the start of the sixteenth century.
Later the port expanded to include tens of thousands of slaves channeled through the trading post of Elmina, ten to twelve thousand from 1500-35 alone. By 1479, the Portuguese were transporting slaves from as far away as Benin, accounted for 10 percent of the trade in Elmina, and were used to clear land for tillage.:23–24
Dutch troops on the shore who have landed are shown battling with Ghanaians to conquer Fort Elmina
The location of Elmina made it a significant site for reprovisioning ships headed south towards the Cape of Good Hope on their way to India. After years of Portuguese wealth on the Elmina Coast, the Dutch learned of the profitable activity taking place through Barent Eriksz of Medenblick, one of the oldest traders and Guinea Navigators. Erickzen received information about trading on the Elmina coast while he was a prisoner on Principe and consequently was a major resource to the Dutch in terms of providing geographical and trading information. The Dutch West India Company captured it in 1637; in subsequent centuries it was mostly used for the slave trade. The British attacked the city in 1782, but it remained in Dutch hands until 1872, when the Dutch Gold Coast was sold to the British.
Elmina is also home to Fort Coenraadsburg on St. Jago Hill, built by the Portuguese in 1555 under the name Forte de Santiago, it was used for commerce. In 1637 it was conquered and remained by the Dutch, after the conquest of Elmina's main castle. Today, Elmina's main economic industry is fishing, salt production and tourism. Also Elmina Castle very close to cape coast castle both castles are notable for role in transatlantic slave trade Portuguese got their in 1481 and castle was finished in 3 years