Checking out the Cape Town noon gun

by Karisa

Yes, you hear it every day at precisely midday… but have you ever gone up there to see the noon gun for yourself?

I hadn’t.  Neither had my friend D.  So over some drinks at &Union last week, we decided that this was going to be our Saturday mission.  (The noon gun fires Mon – Sat, but not on Sundays & publich holidays)

From Bo Kaap, you just follow the Noon Gun signs, and then you follow the little narrow road up to Signal Hill’s Lion Battery:

See that number middle left… that’s a whole lotta gun powder used over the years…

Lots of old cannons to see up there…

Now just to give you a bit of background info, the noon gun has been firing since 1806, making it Cape Town’s oldest living tradition AND making the two guns that are used the oldest guns in daily use in the whole world.  Impressive no?

It actually started out as a time signal for ships in the harbour, but soon everyone in town was using it to get the correct time.  They were originally housed at the Imhoff Battery near the Castle of Good Hope, but were then moved to the castle in 1896 when the battery was demolished.  People in town started complaining that the noon gun was way too loud and therefore it was then moved to Signal Hill in 1902.

Pretty good idea I’d say, cause from Signal Hill, the views are pretty great:

The noon gun is fired by the SA Navy and preparations kick off at 11:30 daily after which the gun is fired at exactly 12:00.

There’s always two cannons setup – one main and one backup just in case something goes wrong with the main of course.

Our noon gun man for the day was Rathogwa, who despite the insane heat, took the time to carefully explain some of the history as well as the loading and firing process to us:

Showing us the trigger and how to load the cannon…

D actually found a story online about how back in the day when horse-drawn traffic was still commonplace, the “rammer” (that long stick you see Rathogwa using above) was once accidentally left in the bore of the cannon and when the gun fired, the rammer flew down into the city and killed a horse.  I’m sure someone got into major poo for that one hey…

Then finally, after the loading of the cannon, it was time for the countdown and the BIG BANG.  And trust me, it’s a BIG one.  I mean car alarms went off and my heart skipped a few beats.  I actually got such a fright, I stopped recording on my camera (was trying to get a great action shot), but luckily D got the shot of the day:


I only got the aftermath:


I’m very happy that D and I were able to tick off this Cape Town bucket list item and I highly recommend you go check this baby out for yourself too.

It’s a good way to wake up your system, that’s for sure, just make sure you get there at 11:30 so you don’t miss the prep & info session.  They start clearing the platform area at 11:45 at which point you go and grab a good viewing spot from a safe distance away.

For more info on the noon gun,  check out this page over here.


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