Back when the world was still mostly blue skies and smiles, with not a single Covid-19 mask in sight, I took the girls out for an exploratory jaunt around the Castle of Good Hope, otherwise known at the Cape Town Castle, a 17th century pentagonal shaped bastion fort standing in the heart Cape Town, South Africa’s oldest city.
Built by the Dutch East India Company around 1666, the stone fortress that is the Castle of Good Hope served to replace Jan van Riebeek’s older wood and clay fort (Fort de Goede Hoop), and is currently the oldest existing building in South Africa. Built primarily in response to rising tensions between Great Britain and the Netherlands, the fort was seen as a way of safeguarding the Dutch Cape settlement which was responsible for replenishing ship supplies on the lucrative but long trade route between the Netherlands and the Dutch East indies, now known as Indonesia.
Although it seems out of place, originally the Castle of Good Hope actually sat on the coastline of Table Bay, but following extensive land reclamations that took place around the city, the fort, an historical monument (now a provincial heritage site) since 1936, now sits completely inland, with its five bastions (named after the main titles of William III: Leerdam, Buuren, Katzenellenbogen, Nassau, and Oranje) surround by the city it was once tasked with protecting.
In the past the Castle acted as local headquarters for the South African Army in the Western Cape, and today houses the Castle Military Museum and ceremonial facilities for the traditional Cape Regiments. The Castle is also the home of the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment, a mechanised infantry unit. Extensive restorations were completed in the 1980s, resulting in the Castle of Good Hope being one of the best preserved examples of a Dutch East India Company fort still left standing.
In its heyday the yellow painted fortress, that colour chosen because it lessened the effect of heat and the sun, housed a church, bakery, various workshops, living quarters, shops, and cells, among other military-themed facilities. A dividing wall was eventually added around 1695 to protect citizens in case of an attack, serving to split the courtyard and also to house the De Kat Balcony (now fronted by four legendary bronze South African warrior kings).
These days the Castle serves as a museum, with the public invited to stroll around the grounds, watch the ceremonial guards of the castle undertake the daily Key Ceremony, observe a signal canon being fired, browse around the top of the bastions, visit the military museum, take in the William Fehr art collection, peek into the torture rooms, or simply join one of the many guided tours to learn more about this bit of our shared City of Cape Town history.
A fascinating relic of Cape Town’s colonial past and seeing as we don’t really have another structure like this in the country, it is well worth the walkthrough if you are a local tourist making your way through our beautiful Mother City.