Robben Island, Cape Town

About See the Light on Robben Island

Robben Island is a small island whose activities have documented the changing of time, the course of history and the progress of mankind.

First discovered in 1575 by Portuguese explorers as a natural floating paradise of wild birds, seals and penguins set 9km north of Cape Town city. This luscious island was later claimed by Jan van Riebeeck (the Dutch founder of South Africa) who named the sanctuary Robben Island after the Dutch word for seals 'robben', as inspired by the resident seal population.

These Atlantic Ocean 'pets' have witnessed many shipwrecks that became an unplanned play park for their seal cubs and a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' backdrop setting for un-flippered tourists. As seafaring pioneers, explorers, discoverers, traders and dreamers sailed 'off the ends of the earth' they cornered South Africa's coastline; sometimes too closely. Ocean quests from the West to the East were notoriously swollen in high tides with a fever of fog and thus a high dose of danger and drowning.

To remedy the situation Jan van Riebeeck staked the first nautical light warning system of the South African coastline on this encircled landmass that punctuates Table Bay like a period at the end of its scenic sentence. Rings of flames were first lit atop poles in 1657 as a firey beacon of caution to the jagged flanking continent of Africa looming within life threatening distance. The first penal compound was established by Jan Van Rieebeeck a year later on the island with confined water locked land allowing for tight security. In keeping with the establishing tradition of firsts, Robben Island also became the site of the first South African Leper Colony serving as yet another good reason that the primitive 'lighthouse' kept sailors at sea.

History continued to anchor itself at the site of this flaming flare through the erection of military bunkers and canons constructed by the British during World War II. The canons, only completely post war have never been fired and hardly considered weapons af mass destruction. The electric upgrade of the warning light prevented mass destruction of bow and stern, shining visibly from a distance of 24 nautical miles.

This occilating light now emits light for a duration of 5 seconds every seven seconds with a light source brightness of 46 000 Candela. This cylindrical masonry tower in a coat of white is accessible for close inspection on a Robben Island Museum tour and visible from far (focal plane height of 47 meters above high water) on a boat cruise. The island location of this lighthouse installed on the first day of the new year in 1865 was once also the penitentiary base of former president of the New South African, Nelson Mandela, whose light too continues to burn. Miniatures of the Robben Island Lighthouse are available for purchase and shine as a reminder of the brightness that a legacy can illuminate.

Need to Know

WhereRobben Island Lighthouse, Robben Island, Cape Town

WhenTour Operating hours: Monday to Sunday by booking (weather dependent).
Guidelines, confirmed by booking:
09h00 return 12h30
11h00 return 14h30
13h00 return 16h30
14h00 return 17h30
15h00 return 18h30

How muchPrices on request.

TelephoneMuseum +27 (0)21 413-4208 or Ticket office: +27 (0)21 413-4200

OvernightThe closest town is V&A Waterfront, in Cape Town

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