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
“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
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.