Built between 1666 and 1679, the castle -- really a pentagonal fortress typical of the Dutch defense system adopted in the early 17th century -- is the oldest surviving building in South Africa, and marks the original shoreline. Once the hub of civilian and administrative life, the long-serving castle is still the regional headquarters of the South African Defence Force, though the most invasive force it's ever dealt with are the tourists ambling through its ramparts (and in a wonderful exorcism of the ghosts of the past, more than 5,000 camp brides and other gay revelers at "The Wedding," a costume ball that MCQP hosted here in 2002). The fort combined local materials (note the slate paving stones, taken from Robben Island in the 17th c.) with European imports (the bell at the entrance was cast in Amsterdam in 1697) and looks much as it has for centuries.
Get here at 10am sharp or noon if you want to see the Key Ceremony, a kind of changing of the guard (Mon-Fri only). There are also 30-minute tours departing at 11am, noon, and 2pm (ask about the many ghosts that wander the ramparts), or you can explore on your own. Unless you're fascinated with colonial military might, you can give the Military Museum a pass, but don't miss the William Fehr Collection. An arch-conservationist, Dr. Fehr (1892-1968) collected paintings and graphics that provide insight into the early colonists and how they were to change the face of the Cape completely. Thomas Baines's painting The Greatest Hunt in Africa, for example, depicts the slaughter of 30,000 animals in honor of the visiting Prince Alfred.
During the day, light meals and refreshments are served in the central courtyard at Die Goewerneur Restaurant (Mon-Sat 9am-4pm). For reservations, call tel. 021/787-4895. (Note that at press time you could catch a horse and carriage from the castle to the Company Gardens at 10:30am and 2pm, with plans to increase to four daily rides.)
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010