Eastern Cape Tourist AttractionsFort Selwyn
Where? Fort Selwyn is open to visitors by request only. Grahamstown, Eastern Cape
Grahamstown may be a small Eastern Cape town with a quiet, unassuming ambience, but it boasts an intriguing history that permeates so many buildings and structures in and around the town’s hub. Fort Selwyn is one of the remnants that testify to this heritage and that tell a fascinating tale about the history of Grahamstown.
Perched on top of Gunfire Hill, which meets the blue African skies in a tranquil display of natural splendour, Fort Selwyn is open to visitors by request only. It is part of the Albany Museum (the second-oldest museum in the country) and situated behind the scenic Rhodes University Campus.
Sir Benjamin D’Urban (then Governor of the Cape Colony) had the original site of the drostdy converted to fortified barracks in 1835, during the height of the colonisation of the Cape of South Africa. In order to protect these barracks and the local supply of water, he erected a number of forts, which needed to be elevated on hills to allow the guards to see as much of the surrounding countryside as possible. Fort Selwyn was one of these. It was completed in June 1836 and occupied by the Royal Artillery until 1862. Then, during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 to 1902), Fort Selwyn was again occupied by soldiers fighting for the land. Once this war was over, the fort was neglected, becoming subject to the elements and falling into a sad state of disrepair.
In 1925, the fort was revamped and made into a residential home with a tea garden attached to it. It would take another 11 years before it was declared a National Monument. In the 1970’s, it was restored as part of the 1820 Settler Monument initiative and has been part of the Albany Museum since 1977. At present, it is under the management of Grahamstown’s City Council.
Today, Fort Selwyn is a lovely addition to any historical tour of Grahamstown. It is clean and well maintained, and promises stunning views of the university town with its broad tree-lined roads and its classic architecture. A trip to Albany Museum goes well with a visit to the fort, as visitors get to learn about the history of Grahamstown and the Cape Colony in a more holistic sense, really adding to the experience of both of these attractions in their own rights.
The town is charming and full of character too. Visitors from all over the country are regularly found meandering the streets, exploring the quirky coffee shops and craft stalls that are snugly tucked away down alleys or on market squares. There are also restaurants and pubs with live entertainment every so often, which make for lovely spots to sit quietly and enjoy the place and its people. Port Elizabeth (the largest metropolis making up the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro) is an hour’s drive away, with a number of popular game reserves (including Shamwari and Kwandwe) along the way. The seaside village of Port Alfred is 60 kilometres from Grahamstown and East London is a drive of around two hours away.