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AAt the V&A Waterfront, visitors can view the ruins of the Chavonnes Battery, which has a remarkable story to tell about the early occupation of the Cape by the Dutch East India Company. But the battery also has much more to offer the visitor ...
Some of Cape Town's most interesting history lies beneath the surface.
When excavations started for a new office block close to the historical 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.
But first and foremost, there is the fascinating historical story behind this local attraction in the heart of the V&A Waterfront.
Many people will know that the first European presence 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 so important this provisioning point, that it was deemed necessary to set up a series of coastal defences against potential attack from the sea. After the Castle, the first of these coastal defences was the Chavonnes Battery, built on the western shore of Table Bay.
The battery was an impressive firing platform that could accommodate 16 large cannon that would make it possible to fire on hostile ships entering Table Bay.
Today, visitors get offered an 18th-century tricorn hat and then step below sea level to learn more about Cape Town of the 17th through to the 19th century from one of the guides on duty.
Not only can you see the thick walls of the original battery, but there's also information about rocket lifesaving apparatus used once to rescue sailors in trouble, as well as artefacts unearthed when the battery was rediscovered, and plenty of interesting stories about postal stones, shipwrecks and isolation wards.
For those with a particular interest in cannonry and military history, the Chavonnes Battery also houses the largest selection of muzzle-loaded cannon in the country.
And, if you do book it as a venue, you can even arrange to have a cannon loaded and fired for your guests, courtesy of the Cannon Association of South Africa.