The history of the Noon Gun goes back to 1806. It consists of two black powder Dutch cannons that are fired alternately with one serving as a backup. They are located close to the city center of Cape Town, on the Signal Hill.
The two original cannons are still used today, making them the oldest ones in daily use in the world. They fire every day at 12 o’ clock (except public holidays and Sundays). The entrance is free. The Noon Gun is maintained by the South African Navy.
1. Time Signaling
Since 1806 the guns have had the task of firing a time signal. According to local tradition, the original purpose of the cannon was to allow ships to check the accuracy of their marine chronometers. Most of the ships marked their time by the puff of smoke rather than by the sound. That’s one of the reasons the guns are situated high above Cape Town harbor.
Since 1864 the Noon Gun has been electrically fired from the master clock of the South African Astronomical Observatory. And there is also a South African Navy duty officer present to manually fire the backup gun in case there is any problem with the active gun.
The guns are situated on Lion’s Battery, on the lower slopes of Signal Hill, close to the centre of the city.
How to get there?
Access can be gained from the city centre in Bo-Kaap (Bo-Kaap: the rainbow colored houses in Cape Town, South Africa) where you can follow the ‘Noon Gun’ signs from the corner of Bloem and Buitengracht Street via Military Road.
- By UBER/Taxify: it will take you 8 minutes from the city center and costs about $28 ZAR = $3 USD
- By Bus: the nearest bus stop is ‘Upper Long’, from there you have to walk about 15 minutes to Military Road and another 20 minutes to get to the top of the hill where Noon Gun is located.
If you choose to get to the top of Lion’s Battery walking (rather than driving) you are going to see amazing views of the city of Cape Town and it will only take you around 20 minutes from the start of Military Road.
Although the road is paved, not too steep, and there are not a lot of cars going up the hill, it is narrow so you should be careful if some of them pass at your side.
At the beginning you will see the Signal Hill Lodge.
3. The Place
The visiting hours at Lion Battery are:
- Monday to Friday: 8:00 to 16:00 hrs.
- Saturday: 8:00 to 13:00 hrs.
- Closed: Sundays and Public Holidays
Besides the Noon Gun, this place is full of other old guns.
Views of Cape Town
Also you can see incredible views of Cape Town that capture the Green Point Stadium.
4. The Noon Gun
Make sure to arrive at least at 11:30 to see all the process. At this time an officer explains the history of the Noon Gun and interesting facts about these cannons. When I went there the officer told us he had fired the gun for 16 years and only 1 time it didn’t fire due to technical difficulties.
There is also a big board which has the number of times the Noon Gun has fired since 1806.
5. Interesting facts
a. The gun killed a horse
This incident occurred many decades ago, when there was still a lot of horse-drawn traffic on the streets. An instrument was by mistake left in the bore of the cannon. So when the gun fired, the instrument flew down into the city and killed a horse.
b. Wrong timing due to a spider
One day in June 1895, the gun fired at 10:30 rather than 12:00 when a spider interfered with the relay used to remotely fire the gun.
c. It didn’t fire due to a technical difficulty
Both guns, the main gun and the backup gun, failed to fire on 7 January 2005 because of technical problems. It was the first time in about 200 years that the Noon Gun failed to fire.
d. People used to talk about the “gun-time”
During the 19th century it was rare to have the accurate time, so all people relied on the gun for it. Travelers from Cape Town were often asked if they have the correct ‘Gun-time’.
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