Robben Island, situated 12 km off the coast of Cape Town, has a 400-year chequered history that is associated with brutality and barbarism for so-called lawbreakers, outspoken political activists opting for change and social outcasts living on the fringes of society.
While predominantly seen as a prison 'hell-hole' harbouring many untold stories and unjust convictions, the island was peacefully inhabited by residents for hundreds of years before it was converted into a place of imprisonment for wrong-doers. The turning point in history in which led to the construction of a prison was the arrival of Dutch on Cape soil during the mid-1600's.
Over the years, those prison walls have seen inmates from all works of life, including many indigenous African leaders, Dutch and British soldiers and civilians, and several anti-apartheid revolutionaries. Two world-renowned revolutionaries include South Africa's first democratic president, Nelson Rohihlahla Mandela and founding leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.
While predominantly used as a prison in that four hundred year timeframe, it also acted as a hospital during the early 1800's. It was a place of recovery and recuperation for leprosy patients as well as the mentally and chronically ill. Due to Robben Island being separated from the rest of the city, it was the ideal place to contain infectious diseases.
While Robben Island is associated with oppression, injustice and violence, it is also a place of triumph, where imprisoned freedom fighters fought for democracy and an end to the apartheid reign. Today, thousands of tourists from all over the world visit Robben Island to learn about our heritage and South Africa's tumultuous past.
In 1997, Robben Island was declared a world heritage site and the Robben Island Museum was opened up to the public. Visitors are guided around the island by ex- political convicts who recount their own personal experiences of their time served on the island.
The natural lay of the land attracts a wide variety of wildlife species, and is especially known for its large colonies of penguins. It is also a hotspot for a diversity of seabirds, including the African black oystercatchers, the sacred ibis and the bank cormorants.
Distances are shown as the crow flies and not necessarily the actual travelling distance.