A boat leaves the South African city of Cape Town and heads for Robben Island, which lies just 11 km off the coast. In the 16th century, the Dutch used the island as a prison but only the remains of later buildings survived.
During apartheid, political prisoners were incarcerated there, the prison’s most famous inmate having been Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 years of his 28 year sentence on the island. He secretly wrote the first part of his memoirs there as well as numerous love letters to his former wife.
The island’s museum is full of fascinating information about the prison, its former conditions and the everyday life of its inmates. Up until the 1970’s the prison didn’t possess a dining hall or any modern sanitation. In the course of time, conditions slowly improved, even though contact with the outside world was prohibited. Visitors, and even radio news broadcasts, were prohibited.
After the closure of the prison in 1997, the South African government opened both the island and its former prison to the public. Thus, the face of Robben Island changed from being a place of terror and suppression to one of pilgrimage, a symbol of resistance and also a major tourist attraction!
Global Treasures - History's Most Protected Monuments - Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. Places as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa's Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Baroque cathedrals of Latin America make up our world's heritage. Join us as we explore one of these protected monuments.