Cape Towns buried treasure

Chavonnes Battery Museum


Some of Cape Town's most interesting history lies beneath the surface.

Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront, the builders came across the remains of a remarkably solid structure: the Chavonnes Battery, built back in 1724 as a coastal defence to deter potential attackers from the sea.

The Alfred Basin back in 1860, and the rest buried under an old fish factory.

Thanks to the historical record, archaeologists were able to reconstruct what these solid walls were, and the waterfront can explore these ruins just a stone's throw from where the Robben Island ferry departs.

But Chavonnes Battery is so much more than a museum. It is also a place where a new generation of storytellers is being fostered, entrepreneurship developed and jobs created in the tourism industry. And it's an unusual events centre, having hosted the prestigious Da Vinci, The Genius travelling exhibition.

With its split levels and outdoor flow, Table Mountain in the background and the V&A behind it, it's no wonder that the fashion shows, cocktail parties and the like ...

But first and foremost, there is a fascinating historical story behind this place in the heart of the V&A Waterfront… .Many people will know that the first European to be established here was in 1652 by Jan van Riebeek, an employee of the Dutch East India Company, to set up a provisioning station for ships on the spice route to the East.

So valuable was this cargo, and this important provisioning point, that was a set of coastal defences against potential attack from the sea. After the Castle, the Chavonnes Battery was built on the western shore of Table Bay. The cannon that would allow 16 ships to enter the Table Bay.

Today, visitors get an 18th-century tricorn hat and then step by step to learn more about Cape Town of the 17th through the 19th century from one of the guides on duty.

Not only can you see the original battery, but there is also information about rocket lifesaving apparatus once to rescue sailors in trouble, as well as artefacts unearthed when the battery was rediscovered and isolation wards. For those with a particular interest in cannonry and military history, the Chavonnes Battery is the largest selection of muzzle-loaded cannon in the country.