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One of the oldest lighthouses in South Africa, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, was built in the ancient Egyptian style and has stood for over 150 years

David Goran

Situated at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse has stood for over 150 years as a maritime chaperone over the notorious “Cape of Storms.” It was the third lighthouse to be built in South Africa, and the second-oldest still operating. The coastline was once a frequent graveyard for ships straying too close to land. The sea off Cape Agulhas has long been notorious among sailors for winter storms and massive rogue waves, which can even sink large ships. Some of the ships that fell onto these shores include the Zoetendal, Arniston, Meisho Maru and the Birkenhead.

Second oldest lighthouse in South Africa. Photo Credit

Building the lighthouse was an idea suggested by surveyor-general and civil engineer Colonel Charles Collier Michell in 1837 and for good reason. The seas around Cape Agulhas are very treacherous and have caused numerous shipwrecks. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

 

the shipwreck of the Japanese fishing trawler Meisho Maru No. 38, barely a kilometer or two just west of Cape Agulhas lighthouse. Photo Credit

The shipwreck of the Japanese fishing trawler Meisho Maru No. 38, barely a kilometer or two just west of Cape Agulhas lighthouse. Photo Credit

The Agulhas bank is a unique geographical formation. The ocean around this area is only 60 fathoms deep for 250 kilometers out to sea and then drops sharply to 180,000 fathoms until it reaches Antarctica.

Seventy-one steps lead up to the top of what is now the second oldest working lighthouse in southern Africa. Photo Credit

Seventy-one steps lead up to the top of what is now the second oldest working lighthouse in southern Africa. Photo Credit

The site is known as L’Agulhas – the Cape of Needles – and was named by the Portuguese navigator Bartholomew Dias in 1488. When seafaring Portuguese vessels rounded this Cape tip in the 15th century, their compass needles would swing, leaving them unable to determine True North from Magnetic North. It is also said that this is where the Benguela and the Mozambique currents meet.

In 1962, the lighthouse building was deemed to be unsafe, and faced demolition. Photo Credit

In 1962, the lighthouse building was deemed to be unsafe and faced demolition. Photo Credit

 

The lighthouse has a unique design that is based on the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Photo Credit

With a unique design that is based on the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Photo Credit

The lighthouse has some very interesting history as it was modeled on one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. It was commissioned on 1 March 1849 but in 1962, the sandstone from which the lighthouse was built started crumbling and the original structure was declared unsafe. In 1968, a new aluminum lighthouse was built nearby, preserving the original lighthouse as a national monument.

The lighthouse was inaugurated again in 1988 after having being out of service for 20 years. Photo Credit

In March 1910 the lens was replaced with a first-order Fresnel lens. Photo Credit

 

Stone mined from an adjacent limestone quarry provided the raw materials for its construction.. Photo Credit

Stone mined from an adjacent limestone quarry provided the raw materials for its construction.. Photo Credit

Its inspired historic architecture stands tall in red and white stripes just one kilometer away from the most southern tip of the rocky coastline.

It was declared a National Monument in 1973. Photo Credit

It was declared a National Monument in 1973. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

 

Today the lighthouse is a national monument, housing the unique lighthouse museum and a small restaurant. Photo Credit

Today the lighthouse is a national monument, housing the unique lighthouse museum and a small restaurant. Photo Credit

The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse Museum was opened in 1994 and is the only one of its kind found in Africa.