Castles to visit in Africa
A castle is not the first thing that springs to mind when you are thinking of Africa is it? Castles are known as beautiful fortified structures built to protect and defend.
Africa is one of the most spectacular continents, rich in culture and history, with breathtaking landscapes. When you put the two together… you get something truly magical.
Read below our favourite castles to visit in Africa.
Castle of Good Hope
Cape Town, South Africa
The Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town is the oldest surviving building. It has been the centre of civilian, political and military life in the Cape region since it was built by the Dutch East India Company in 1666.
Today it is considered one of the best examples of preserved 17th century DEIC architecture in the world and has undergone renovation to conserve its splendid design.
Taking 13 years to complete, the castle was built by soldiers, volunteers, and slaves undergoing punishment. The star shaped building housed everything from a church, a bakery and living quarters to workshops and prison cells.
The Castle of Good Hope was never attacked and in 1936,it was declared a national monument. Today, the castle stands as a reminder of Cape Town’s colonial past and acts as a beacon of the city’s future, housing art and photography exhibitions, commercial events and of course a museum that is open to the public. There are two onsite restaurants too if you want a bite to eat somewhere historic and significant.
So don’t miss this and our other Castles to visit in Africa.
Located on the edge of a coral ridge overlooking the entrance to Mombasa’s Old Port, Fort Jesus was commissioned by King Philip of Portugal, designed by an Italian architect, Giovanni Battista Cairati and built by the Portuguese. Construction began in 1593 and was completed in 1596. The purpose of this fortress was to protect the valuable trade route to India and their interests in East Africa.
In 1698 it was seized by the Oman Arabs and this conquest meant the entire coast of Kenya and Tanzania along with Zanzibar and Pemba fell to the Omani Arabs. This fascinating castle was captured and lost by different countries a total of nine times including the British, Oman Empire, Portuguese and Spanish.
Today Fort Jesus sits on 6 acres of land and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2011. When viewed from above, apparently the castle looks like the figure of a man lying on his back with arms outstretched.
Fort Jesus is known as a fine example of 16th century Portuguese military architecture. The architect served King Philip and worked at Malacca, Mannar, Ormuz, Muscat, Damao, Bassein and Mombasa. Sadly he never saw it completed, dying in Goa in 1596.
Gondar region, Ethiopia
More than a castle, Fasil Ghebbi is a fortress-city that was home to Ethiopian emperor Fasilides and his successors. Founded in the 17th and 18th century, Fasil Ghebbi is a fortified city with twenty palaces, royal buildings, highly decorated churches, monasteries and other buildings all surrounded by a 900 metre long wall with three bridges and twelve entrances. It was a fully operational city centre of Ethiopia’s government up until 1864.
UNESCO carried out restoration works in the 1970s and today, visitors can explore the grounds to get a real sense of the remarkable interface between internal and external cultures including Nubian, Portuguese and Arabian. It reflects the rich cultures that were embodied in the ancient Kingdom of Ethiopia. You can read more about this fascinating and awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Great Zimbabwe is an abandoned city in the south eastern hills of Zimbabwe near Lake Mutirikwe and the town of Masvingo. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe during the country’s late Iron Age, from the 11th to 13th century.
The ruins of Great Zimbabwe make up the largest stone structure in sub-Saharan Africa. Incredibly, the enormous walls were constructed without mortar, and span an area of 1,785 acres which had the potential of housing up to 18,000 people. Great Zimbabwe functioned as the royal citadel for the Zimbabwean king and was used as the seat of political power. One of its most conspicuous features were the walls, some of which were over five metres high. Eventually the city was abandoned and fell into ruin. It is now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can read more about it here.
Fort São Sebastião
Ilha de Moçambique
Mozambique is home to the oldest complete fort still standing in sub-Saharan Africa, Fort of Sao Sebastiao. It sits on the north eastern tip of ‘Mozambique Island’ and has 780 metres of impressive perimeter.
Vice King of India, Dom Joao de Castro gave the orders to start construction in 1545 yet it only officially began in 1558 and took some 62 years to complete. There has been numerous sieges by the Dutch. British and Omani and yet the structure still stands today (somewhat unkept) with an impressive size and aura about it not to mention exceptional views from its battlements. It survived Dutch attacks in 1607 and 1608 and remained a major post for the Portuguese on their journeys to India. If only it could talk, you would hear fascinating stories of the vigorous trade of slaves, spices, and gold.
Worthy of a mention is the oldest European building on the Southern Hemisphere that sits just beyond the fort at the island’s tip and accessible via the fort entrance. It is the tiny Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte.
Duwisib Castle was built in the hills of Namibia’s semi-arid Southern Namib region back in 1908 by a German army officer, ‘Baron’ Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf. The Baron wished to settle with his American wife, Jayta in what was then called South West Africa.
This gift of love saw building materials imported from Germany and a design that resembled a Medieval Fortress.
Sadly, the Baron was killed during the First World War. His wife left for America, never to return, leaving the castle and all of its contents and dreams behind.
Today the castle has been restored as a resort and inside you will find a collection of 18th and 19th century antiques, armour and paintings.