Cape Town on Foot: Castle to Slave Lodge
Castle of Good Hope
Step up to the gap in the wall, and stop here for a moment to enjoy the fantastic view.
The main entrance of the Castle initially faced the sea but was moved to today’s position because of frequent flooding in high seas. Flooding? But where is the sea? Well, you're actually standing on the original shoreline of Cape Town.
With your back to the Castle, look through the gaps in the wall on your right to the street on the far right of the Castle. That's Strand Street, and strand is the Afrikaans word for beach! So, what happened?
By the 1930s it had become apparent that Cape Town needed a bigger deep sea harbour. In May 1938, work for a new dock development began.
Altogether about 160 ha of land was reclaimed from the sea. With that development the city lost a popular and vibrant beach area. It also lost the chance of ever salvaging nearly 70 shipwrecks, now buried under tarmac and concrete.
Let’s turn around now and have a closer look at the Castle.
You might be wondering why the Castle doesn't look like a normal castle. Where are the spires and the towers? Well, our oldest building in the country is actually a fortress. It was built of sturdy rocks in the 1660s to be the administrative headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, or "VOC", the Vereenigde Oostindiese Companjie. The VOC governed the Cape from 1652 to 1795.
Its outline resembles a five pointed star, with the five bastions carrying the official titles of the Prince of Orange: Leerdam, Oranje, Buren, Katzenellenbogen and Nassau.
Can you see the arched gateway with the octagonal bell tower? The bell tower over the gateway is built of "klompjes", which means little lumps. These stones were imported in their thousands by the Dutch and were mainly used for face work, steps, paving and fountains.
The Castle remained the VOC headquarters until 1795 when the their rule of the Cape ended. When the British took control of the area in 1806 it became the governor’s residence until the 1850s. But as the town grew, space proved insufficient and most government offices, except for the military, moved out. In 1936 it was declared an historical monument, but it remained an active military centre.
Incidentally, no hostile shot has ever been fired from the Castle.
If you have some time later, it's well worth a visit. But for now, let's get going. There's plenty to see. Walk back to the front entrance parking lot, where we started. Then turn left and follow Castle Street in the direction of Table Mountain.