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 Prison.
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.