Castle of Good Hope

The Castle of Good Hope (Dutch: Kasteel de Goede Hoop; Afrikaans: Kasteel die Goeie Hoop) is a star fort which was built on the original coastline of Table Bay and now, because of land reclamation, lies nearer to the Cape Town city centre in South Africa.


Built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679, the Castle is the oldest colonial building in South Africa. It replaced an older fort called the Fort de Goede Hoop which was constructed from clay and timber and built by Jan van Riebeeck upon his arrival at the Cape in 1652, in addition to two redoubts Redoubt Kyckuit and Redoubt Duijnhoop, which were built at the mouth of the Salt River in 1654. The purpose of the Dutch settlement in the Cape was to act as a replenishment station for ships passing the treacherous coast around the Cape on long voyages between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).

During 1664, tensions between Britain and the Netherlands rose with rumours that war was imminent. That same year, Commander Zacharias Wagenaer, successor to Jan van Riebeeck, was instructed by Commissioner Isbrand Goske to build a pentagonal fortress out of stone. The first stone was laid on 2nd January 1666. Work was interrupted frequently because the VOC was reluctant to spend money on the project, but on 26th April 1679, the five bastions were named after the main titles of William III of Orange-Nassau: Leerdam to the west, with respectively Buuren, Katzenellenbogen, Nassau and Oranje clockwise from it.

In 1682, the gated entry replaced the old entrance which had faced the sea. A bell tower, situated over the main entrance, was built in 1684 — the original bell, the oldest in South Africa, was cast in Amsterdam in 1697 by the East-Frisian bell-maker Claude Fremy and weighs just over 300 kilograms. It was used to announce time, as well as warning citizens in case of danger, since it could be heard 10 kilometers away. It was also rung to summon residents and soldiers when important announcements needed to be made.

Inside, the fortress housed a church, bakery, various workshops, living quarters, shops and cells, among other facilities. The yellow paint on the walls was originally chosen because it lessened the effect of heat and the scorching sun. A wall, built in order to protect citizens in case of an attack, divides the inner courtyard which also houses the well-known De Kat Balcony which was designed by Louis Michel Thibault with reliefs and sculptures by Anton Anreith. The original was built in 1695, but rebuilt in its current form between 1786 and 1790. From the balcony, announcements were made to soldiers, slaves and burghers of the Cape. The balcony leads to the William Fehr collection of paintings and antique furniture.

During the Second Boer War (1899-1902), the castle was used partially as a prison and the former cells remain to this day. Fritz Joubert Duquesne, later known as the Man who killed Kitchener and the leader of the Duquesne Spy Ring, was one of its more famous residents. The walls of the castle were extremely thick, yet night after night, Duquesne dug away the cement around the stones with an iron spoon. He nearly escaped one night, but a large stone slipped and pinned him in his tunnel. The next morning, a guard found him unconscious but alive.

In 1936 the Castle was declared a national monument. Extensive restorations completed during the 1980s make the Castle the best preserved example of a VOC fort.

The Castle acted as local headquarters for the South African Army in the Western Cape, but today houses the Castle Military Museum and ceremonial facilities for the traditional Cape Regiments.


The distinctive shape of the pentagonal castle was used on South African Defence Force flags, formed the basis of some rank insignia from the rank of major up and was used on South African Air Force aircraft.

  • Naval ensign of South Africa prior to 1994, showing the castle insignia

  • Roundel of the South African Air Force from 1970 to 1981


3 photos

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