Noon Day Gun, Cape Town
Up on Signal Hill at 12:00 exactly every day, a cannon is fired. Accurate to the nearest millisecond, it booms over the Mother City, Table Mountain in the background, yet never ceases to surprise even long-term Capetonians, and certainly has visitors looking anxious.
The daily noon gun (cannon) is not only Cape Town’s oldest living tradition, but the guns used (there are two of them, just in case one of them fails) are two of the oldest in the world still in daily use.
This tradition has managed, somehow, to survive a Dutch then a British colony; a resurgence of Dutch control, British expansion, the Anglo-Boer War, the rise and fall of apartheid and the subsequent new democracy, and is still used by which to set one’s watch. Today it is fired electronically from The South African Astronomical Observatory, in Observatory and its accuracy comes from an atomic clock.
As early as 1806, the Noon Day gun was used as a time signal for ships anchored in Table Bay and the cannon was fired from the Castle of Good Hope. It was moved in 1902 to its present position, where it overlooks Cape Town, the harbour and Table Bay.
But every Capetonian, pocket watches being scarce and inaccurate - if you didn’t remember to wind them, you were without the time - came to rely on the blast as a means to tell the time. In those days, time was loosely divided into four parts - day, night, morning and afternoon, and travellers from the mother city would be expected to provide the correct ‘gun time’.
Today, the Noon Day Gun is yet another of those little idiosyncrasies that sets Cape Town apart and makes her such an exciting place to visit, and you can watch the daily ritual up on Signal Hill at Lion Battery, from 11:30 (except on Sundays or public holidays).
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