Constitution Hill, Johannesburg
Did you know?
Most of apartheid South Africa's political prisoners spent some time in the Old Fort prison.
Constitution Hill is a human rights precinct and a world-class heritage tourist attraction incorporating cultural, historical, artistic, educational and recreational spaces that celebrate South Africa's ability to negotiate a peaceful, miraculous democracy out of bloody oppression.
It is also the home of the South African Constitutional Court, which was opened in March 2004. It is located between the Braamfontein and Hillbrow precincts in Johannesburg and retains important national and international heritage buildings, including the Old Fort prison complex of Johannesburg, and the Women's Goal.
With its four lookout towers, the Old Fort was once a place of fear and hopelessness. Built by the Transvaal government in 1899 as a bulwark to protect the city against the advancing British during the Anglo-Boer War, it was converted in 1904 into a jail that for most of the century would house a variety of prisoners of all races.
But it was made infamous as the prison where political prisoners were sent, including Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, which led to it being dubbed the Robben Island of Johannesburg. This is why it occupies such an indelible place in the consciousness of the nation.
The museum section of Constitution Hill includes the Mandela Cell, which features a documentary of his incarceration and emotional return 40 years later.
Bricks from portions of the Old Fort that were demolished were used for the construction of the inner walls of the South African Constitutional Court. This is in stark contrast to the vibrant African art exhibited in the ultra-modern building.
The complex includes a coffee shop, bookshop, tourism office and exhibition spaces. Future plans include a hotel, a visitor's centre, a Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory, and various retail outlets.
Aside from guided tours to some of the highlights, Constitution Hill also has meeting, banqueting and conferencing venues on offer and frequently hosts discussions and events focusing on human rights.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Constitution Hill Visitor Centre
Tel: +27 (0)11 381 3100
How to get here
Consitution Hill is situated in the Johannesburg city centre's Braamfontein district. There are buses and taxis available in the area.
Best time to visit
Constitution Hill is open during the week, from morning until late afternoon, and on Saturdays from morning to early afternoon. It is closed on Sundays and public holidays.
Around the area
The Johannesburg central business district is close by, as well as the Newtown Cultural Precinct. Braamfontein is brimming with shopping options and the nearby Oriental Plaza is a great place to go bargain hunting.
Tours to do
There's a 90-minute tour that will give you insight into the history of this precinct. You can also visit without a guide but the cost is the same.
What will it cost
A 90-minute tour costs R50 per adult and R20 for students. Book through the visitor centre.
What to pack
A hat and sunscreen during the summer months. And don't forget the camera.
Where to stay
The Johannesburg city centre has a bevy of accommodation establishments ranging from basic to five-star luxury.
What to eat
There is a small coffee shop on the premises. The Braamfontein area around Constitution Hill is packed with various refreshment options.
Constitution Hill has a lively programme focusing on human rights. See the website for details.
The onsite shop has a number of interesting books on Africa as well as some beautifully crafted curios.