Lighthouses of Cape Town

Milnerton Lighthouse. Photo courtesy Ian Junor

If pharology (the study of lighthouses) brings a twinkle to your eye, there are 10 places along the Cape coast where you’ll find them.

The precursors to today’s modern automated lighthouses were large fires set on the water’s edge to warn sailors that they were approaching land. The Egyptians were the first to build lighthouses. They also constructed the tallest lighthouse ever built, a 274m beacon that guided ships for more than 1 500 years. Lighthouses were also built by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans.

A number of lighthouses are now open to the public for a small entrance fee and tours are conducted by the lighthouse keepers.

The Milnerton Lighthouse is a 21m white concrete tower that dates back to 1960. The lighthouse can be found in the Cape Town suburb of Milnerton on the West Coast, en route to Cape Columbine. It stands sentinel over the panoramic view of Table Mountain, with Table Bay in the foreground.

The small stretch of coastline from Green Point to Milnerton has seen the demise of more ships than any other coastline in South Africa, with 150 shipwrecks recorded over the past few centuries.

The only rock lighthouse on the South African coast is the 1861 Roman Rock Lighthouse, a circular cast-iron tower. It occupies a position atop Roman Rock, at the entrance to the historical naval harbour of Simon’s Town.

This lighthouse is unique, as it was built on a single large rock that is exposed at low tide, but covered at high tide. It took four years to complete the installation of the prefabricated cast-iron tower, which was sent out from England.

The Roman Rock Lighthouse stands proudly today, still defying the south-easterly gales and surging seas that have battered it for 142 years. In 1919, an automated lighting system was installed and the lighthouse keeper was retired from his inhospitable home. Today the lighthouse continues to emit one flash every six seconds over the waters of False Bay, to guide the country’s naval vessels home.

At 33m from base to balcony, the Slangkop Lighthouse at Kommetjie is the tallest cast-iron tower on the South African coast.

Commissioned in 1919, the lighthouse looks out over the surfers, fishermen and divers in the seaside village of Kommetjie and remains a familiar landmark along the road from Cape Point. The walkway from the Kom – the sea basin, called a kommetjie (“little bowl”), from which the village gets its name – to the lighthouse provides a good viewing spot for offshore seabirds such as albatrosses, petrels and Cape gannets.

The Green Point Lighthouse was completed in 1824. Photo courtesy of mallix

The Roman Rock Lighthouse guides naval vessels home. Photo courtesy of andre.vanrooyen

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