It’s time to take a closer look at the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town, a landmark for stands a short way from the city bowl.
Built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) the Castle of Good Hope is the oldest surviving building in South Africa and stands where the ocean used to be. Built by soldiers, sailors and slaves, the walls are clad in local stone to fulfil the role as a replenishment station and stop-over for sailors of the VOC and to protect its interests along the “spice route”.
The Castle was a welcome sight for sailors that travelled up to six months at sea and referred to Cape Town as the “Tavern of the Seas”. A tour here takes you back in history and the dungeons and torture chamber are a sobering reminder that it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
It has survived many challenges in its time and was constantly under threat of being demolished for personal and materialistic gain. Sentiment and military authorities are to be thanked for evoking public support in favour of retaining the Castle of Good Hope.
Sections of the moat, which previously formed part of the defence system of the Castle, were rebuilt in 1992. Protecting Dutch interests against the British and French obviously required soldiers and therefore a military presence and there is still a military presence at the Castle of Good Hope today.
The original balcony was built in 1695 then rebuilt in its present form by the VOC between 1786 and 1790. From this balcony proclamations and announcements were made to the soldiers, slaves and civilians at the Cape. All judicial sentences were read here, and official visitors welcomed to the Castle. This balcony leads to the famous William Fehr Collection of historical paintings and period furniture, which have a special relevance to the Cape.
The original entrance to the Castle, the ‘Waterpoort’ was located in the wall between Buuren and Catzenellenbogen Bastions. But the sea level at high tides made access impossible. Today this is the entrance to the Military Museum. The Castle Military Museum depicts Cape Military History and has one of the most impressive sword collections in the country.
Some interesting facts.
- The first stone was laid on 2 January 1666 and it was completed by April 1679
- The materials used to build the Castle were local and included rock cut from the granite outcrop on Signal Hill, and blue slate and shells – transported from Robben Island
- The Castle was built by soldiers, volunteers, slaves and Khoi undergoing punishment. The building housed everything from a church, bakery and living quarters, to various workshops, shops and prison cells, among other facilities
- The Castle was never attacked. Battles against the British were fought at Muizenberg in 1795 and Blaauwberg in 1806
- In 1936 the Castle of Good Hope was declared a national monument
- The Castle of Good Hope was not built by Jan Van Riebeeck, the first Governor of the Cape. A four-pointed clay and timber fort was the first building to be erected in his time, and it was his suggestion that this be replaced by a more permanent structure that could withstand the elements and possible attacks. The existing stone “star fort” was built four years after Jan van Riebeeck left the Cape.
- Yellow paint was originally chosen for the walls because it reduced the effects of the hot African sun
Recommendations. Visit the dungeons, be there for the firing of the canon and walk the walls of the Castle. Also have a Gatsby at the coffee shop – amazing.
The Essential Details.
- Location: The Castle of Good Hope, Cnr. of Castle and Darling Street, Cape Town.
- Contact Details: Tel (021) 787 1249 and firstname.lastname@example.org
- Opening Times: Open at 09h00 daily with the last entry at 15h30. A couple of specials to catch are the Key Ceremony and Firing of the Signal Canon. For more call them on +27 21 787 1249 for more info or to make sure you get there for the guided tour.
- Website: http://www.castleofgoodhope.co.za/
- Ticket Prices: R30 pp for adults. R15 pp for pensioners, students and scholars.
*Part of my Cape Town Attractions series.