Castle celebrated 350 years

The Castle of Good Hope has celebrated its 350th year since the first cornerstone was laid.
The Castle of Good Hope has celebrated its 350th year since the first cornerstone was laid.
Luigi Bennett/ Die Burger
Three hundred and fifty years ago, the first cornerstone of the Castle of Good Hope was laid.

Built by the Dutch East India Company, which established a refreshment station in the Cape to cater to the trade route between the Netherlands and Indonesia, the Castle is the oldest existing colonial building in South Africa. It replaced an older fort, constructed from clay and timber, built by Jan van Riebeeck upon his arrival.

A recent ceremony to commemorate the laying of the first cornerstone also celebrated the history of the Castle.
In those 350 years the stronghold has seen many transitions, occupations and battles, says Calvyn Gilfellan, CEO of the Castle Control Board.

“Since there was a river nearby and Van Riebeeck’s fort 100m away, there would have been a Khoi community living on land that would have had grazing, water holes, indigenous forest, small game and what is today known as coastal fynbos,” he explains.

“The area where the Castle is today was not simply an open, unoccupied natural piece of land just waiting for the Dutch East India Company to build the Castle on.”

With the Castle built on land used by indigenous people, the commemoration must pay homage to those who were “dispossessed from their land, marginalised, destroyed and treated as third-class citizens in the land of their birth”, says Gilfellan.

“However, the contributions of the Dutch, English and other Europeans will not be denied at all; it is simply a matter of balance.”

Once a place associated with slavery, prisoners and torture, the Castle is now a place all South Africans can relate to, says Gilfellan.

“All people must be able to feel welcome and associate with the Castle and its history – good, bad or ugly. For instance, Robben Island has been a place of banishment, incarceration and pain – but people want to go there. We want the same for the Castle,” he says.

“It must move from a place of pain, exclusion and persecution to one that is inclusive, reconciliatory, healing and educational.”
The Castle was originally the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company and then became the seat of the Dutch colonial power.
“After that the British took over and ruled for a short while and then it then fell back into Dutch (Batavian) hands.”
The British took power again and ruled until the establishment of the South African Union in 1910.
“The Castle then became the military headquarters of the defence force until about 20 years ago. Today it is a well-renowned heritage site and tourist attraction,” he says.
The Castle currently houses four museums, hosts indigenous language classes, skills development classes and had almost 170 000 visitors last year.

The Castle is currently undergoing a R108m facelift. The project is due to be completed in September next year.

The seven buildings within the Castle walls will be repainted and have new carpentry installed. The deteriorated waterproofing on the roofs and ramparts will be replaced and the stone moat walls and banks will be repaired. The project also includes the refurbishment of murals, renovations to the Dolphin Pool and specialist plaster repairs.
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