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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.
This structure had been partially demolished to make way for 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 today visitors to 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 it's also been booked for fashion shows, cocktail parties and the like.
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 1st 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.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Chavonnes Battery Museum
Tel: +27 (0)21 416 6230
How to get here
The Chavonnes Battery Museum is close to the Clock Tower precinct, opposite the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.
Best time to visit
Any time of the year. The Museum is open every day from 10am to 5pm.
Things to do
Explore the Waterfront, take a trip to Robben Island or book a sundowner cruise out into Table Bay.
Tours to do
The company that operates Chavonnes Battery also offers V&A Waterfront Historical Walking Tours. These tours last about 2 hours and can be booked at the information centre or kiosk in the mall.
Length of stay
The Waterfront is a good day's outing.
What to pack
Comfortable walking shoes, if you plan to explore the Waterfront.
Where to stay
Cape Town has a huge range of accommodation, from backpackers' to high-end guest houses and 5-star hotels.
What to eat
You can dine on anything from takeaway fish and chips to haute cuisine here.
This is a shopping district of note, so anything from fashion items to outdoor gear and crafts.