The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest building in South Africa. Built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company, better known as the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), this pentagonal fortification replaced a small clay and timber fort built in 1652 by Commander Jan van Riebeeck, founder of the maritime replenishment station at the Cape of Good Hope.
In 1664 there were renewed rumours of war between Britain and the Netherlands and they feared a British attack on the Cape. During that same year Commander Zacharius Wagenaer was instructed to build a five-pointed stone castle. On 26 April 1679 the five bastions were named after the main titles of Willem, the Prince of Orange. The western bastion was named Leerdam; followed in clockwise order by Buuren, Catzenellenbogen, Nassau and Oranje.
In 1682 the gateway replaced the old entrance, which faced the sea. The bell tower, situated above the main entrance was built in 1684. The original bell – the oldest in South Africa – was cast in Amsterdam in 1697 by Claude Frémy and weighs 670 lbs. It was used to tell the hours and warn citizens of danger and it could be heard about 10 km away. It was also rung to call residents and soldiers to the Castle for important announcements.
Inside the walls of the Castle there were among others a church, bakery, workshops, living quarters, offices, cells and numerous other facilities. The yellow paint on the walls was chosen because of its ability to reduce heat and glare from sunlight. A wall divides the inner courtyard of the Castle. The division was initially intended to provide protection to the inhabitants of the Castle in the event of an attack. The well-known Kat Balcony is an outstanding feature of the dividing wall.
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. This balcony leads to the famous William Fehr Collection of historical paintings and period furniture, which have a special relevance to the Cape of Good Hope.
In 1936 the Castle of Good Hope was declared a national monument. As a result of an extensive, ongoing restoration programme launched in the 1980s, the Castle of Good Hope remains the best preserved fortification of its kind built by the VOC in regions where it had interests.
The Castle of Good Hope was the regional headquarters of the South African Army in the Western Cape, and houses the Castle Military Museum and ceremonial facilities for traditional Cape Regiments.
“The Castle of Good Hope was not built in consecutive order, so you will jump around from one time of history to another as you explore the Castle…”
Inside the Castle:
The Castle Military Museum depicts the military history of the Cape, the Castle and Cape Regiments.
The Willian Fehr collection consists of artwork reflecting many aspects of cultural life at the Cape from the early VOC days until the middle of the 19th century. Exhibitions of a contemporary nature are occasionally presented.
During the restoration of the inner courtyard, the foundations of the early 18th century bakery and pool were discovered. The building, currently known as Het Bakhuys, has been reconstructed on these foundations. The original Dolphin pool was named after the impressive fountain in the form of a dolphin in the middle of the pool. Het Bakhuys also caters for functions and conferences.
The Castle forge is located in the earliest blacksmith workshop in South Africa. The Castle’s forge was initially built for the upkeep and maintenance of the Castle’s hardware and steel goods.
In her letters Lady Anne Barnard describes balls held at the Castle during her stay here at the end of the 18th century. These letters written from the Cape, describing many of the facets of the life of that time, have made her a legendary figure. The ballroom, over 180 feet in length, was originally divided into many smaller rooms of which one was occupied as her bed chamber. Since then the beamed ceilings have been covered with plaster and the room in its presence state is used as a Banqueting Room.
Visit the notorious dungeon. As a result of rising damp, the dungeon was not fit to store gun powder as intended and was later used as a prison for the accused awaiting trial.