The Ultimate Guide to the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa

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One of the best-known attractions of Cape Town is the Cape of Good Hope Castle, South Africa. It is South Africa’s oldest building, and locals know the Castle of Good Hope as “The Castle”. It has been a historical monument since 1936. During the 1980s, restorations took place, making the Castle the best-preserved example of a 17th-century architectural structure in the world. This article provides you all the details you need to plan a visit to this historic site. 

A brief overview of the Castle of Good Hope’s history

The Dutch East India Company (DEIC) settled in Table Bay in 1652 to build a base for refreshments for ships travelling between Europe and East Asia, hoping to keep its dominance over the spice trade. They built the Castle between 1666 and 1679 to replace an older fort. The Castle is the oldest colonial building in South Africa.

Tensions between the Netherlands and Brittain increased in 1664 because of war rumours. The DEIC instructed Jan van Riebeek’s successor, Commander Zacharias Wagenaer, to build a pentagonal stone fortress. He built the Castle on the coastline of Table Bay, but after land reclamation, the fort moved inland to where it is now. 

The Castle has five bastions, named after Philip William, the Dutch Prince of Orange, at the time: Leerdam, Buuren, Katzenellenbogen, Nassau, and Oranje. Each bastion has a garrison, storeroom, magazine, and production centres, including bakeries and smithies. 

In 1682, they replaced the old entrance with a gated entry and built the bell tower over the main entrance in 1684 to announce the time and warn citizens of danger. It could summon soldiers and citizens for important announcements. 

Castle of Good Hope

The fortress housed several facilities, including a bakery, church, workshops, shops, cells and living quarters. The yellow wall paint lessened the effect of the heat. They built a wall to protect the citizens in the event of an attack. It divides the inner courtyard. 

The Castle was the home for slaves and free citizens. The Dutch also used it as a travellers’ lodge. 

They completed the Kat, a diagonal defence wall across the courtyard, in 1695. The Kat aimed at protecting the fort from an attack from the land. It housed the governors’ residences, the secunde (second-in-command), and a large council hall serving as a church.

The Kat’s balcony is the entrance to the Governor’s residence and features fluted pillars, curbed staircases and wrought-iron railings. From here, they made announcements and sentences to the Castle’s inhabitants. 

The DEIC used the Castle of Good Hope as the seat of government until 1795. The British colonised Cape Town. The governors of the Cape lived at the Castle during the first half of the 19th century. 

They used the Castle as a prison during the Second Boer War (1899–1902). When you visit the Castle today, you can still see the former cells. 

After the relocation of the governors, the Castle served as the political centre until the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910. In 1917, the South African National Defence Force took control of the Castle, and they are still responsible for the Castle’s operations today. 

What does the Castle of Good Hope offer visitors?

Apart from being the oldest building in South Africa, you can visit the Castle Military Museum. The Castle Military Museum has an extensive range of military artefacts and exhibits from the 17th to the 19th centuries. 

The Castle houses the William Fehr Collection comprising historical paintings, ceramics, and antique furniture relevant to the early Cape. You can also view an African pottery exhibit. 

Castle of Good Hope Entrance
Castle of Good Hope Entrance

You can choose between exploring the Castle grounds on your own or joining a guided tour. Sights you can see include the Dolphin Pool, officer’s living quarters, bakery and the Donker Gat (Dark Hole), where they held prisoners awaiting trial. 

De Goewerneur Restaurant is the Castle of Good Hope’s restaurant. It serves a variety of Malay, French and Dutch cuisine. The restaurant is a small cafe with outdoor seating from where you can view the Governor’s residence and the courtyard. 

When you visit the Castle, be sure to witness the Key Ceremony and firing of the cannons.

Castle of Good Hope: information for your visit

This is some practical information to plan your visit to the Castle. 

Contact details

You can contact the Castle of Good hope on telephone number: +27 21 787 1249 or 

+27 21 461 4673. Alternatively, email them at: info@castleofgoodhope.co.za.

Opening hours at the Cape Castle of Good Hope

The Castle of Good Hope is open between 9:00 and 17:00. You can buy a ticket up to 16:45, but remember that this won’t give you enough time to explore the Castle’s grounds. The Castle is open daily apart from Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Although the Castle is usually open 363 days a year, from time to time, it may be closed when film crews book it as a filming location. Always check the website for closures. 

The Castle of Good Hope’s address

You can find the Castle of Good Hope in the city centre of Cape Town. Its address is: Corner of

Castle and Darling Streets, Cape Town, 8001. Here is a Castle of Good Hope map, reflecting its location in Cape Town.

The Castle does not have a parking area, but you can find parking across the street, right by Greenmarket Square, from where you can explore several of the best sights in Cape Town’s city centre.

If you want to see the castle’s layout, you can find one here!

Castle of Good Hope prices

You can purchase Castle of Good Hope tickets at the Castle. The entrance fees are:

  • R50 for adults
  • R25 for South African pensioners
  • R25 for children
  • R8 for groups of school children

Castle of Good Hope events

Two special events take place at the Castle daily. This includes the key ceremony and the firing of the cannons. Both events only take place when the weather allows it. 

The key ceremony occurs twice a day, at 10:00 and 12:00, from Mondays to Fridays. During the key ceremony, the ceremonial guards unlock the Van der Stel entrance of the Castle of Good Hope. 

The firing of the cannons takes place three times a day: 10:00, 11:00 and 12:00. Castle staff used to fire the cannons to announce a ship at sea to the people inside the fort. The Cannon Association of South Africa has continued this practice, and it still takes place daily (except on Sundays).

Castle of Good Hope tours

The Castle offers guided tours daily at 11:00, 12:00, 14:00, 15:00 and 16:00. An experienced guide leads these tours and will provide insights into the history of the Castle. You can book a spot on a tour using the Castle’s website

For a taster of what the Castle offers, you can do a virtual tour of the entrance to the Castle, inside the gate and the outer courtyard.

Frequently asked questions about the Castle of Good Hope

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the Castle:

What is the Castle of Good Hope used for today?

Today, the Castle houses the Castle Military Museum and ceremonial facilities for the traditional Cape Regiments. It is the home of the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment, a mechanised infantry unit.

Is the Castle of Good Hope a heritage site?

If you wondered whether and why the Castle of Good Hope is a heritage site, it might surprise you that it is not one of South Africa’s world heritage sites. The South African Heritage Resources Agency declared the Castle a national heritage site on 14 October 2016. The reason for this declaration was that the Castle is the oldest fortress and building in South Africa. It is also the oldest functioning Dutch colonial building from the 17the century. 

Is the Castle of Good Hope haunted?

The Castle of Good Hope is over 350 years old. On-site, it has a former torture chamber (the Dark Hole or Donkergat), gallows and a place where they executed people. Many people wonder if the Castle of Good Hope has ghosts. 

Castle of Good Hope

One of the most exciting stories about the Castle is about the 18th-century Governor, Pieter van Noodt. He condemned seven men to death for desertion. One of the seven men cursed the Governor at the gallows. The Governor died on the same day. Many believe that he haunts the grounds of the Castle of Good Hope.

There are rumours that the soldiers who guard the Castle never walk through the haunted archways in the early morning hours. Apparently, they have heard pacing footsteps between two of the bastions. Some have seen a floating human shape with no legs while hearing the footsteps.

There is also a ghost who may have been a soldier who committed suicide by hanging himself in the bell tower over 300 years ago. Another ghost is a sad-faced woman with a long, grey cloak. There is also a party-loving ghost at the Castle who loves attending events in the ballroom wearing a ballgown of the 1700s.

Hotels near the Castle of Good Hope

Sources:

Heritage site at last

Discover Castle’s Ghostly Past

Ghosts haunt guards at Cape Town Castle

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Sabs | South Africa Travel Blog

By Sabs

Editor of the South Africa Travel Blog that focuses on travel to South Africa, including destinations, attractions, accommodation, food & drink.