The great pyramids at Giza, EgyptElephants crossing the Zambezi river in Mana Pools National Park world heritage site, ZimbabweThe great mosque in the Old Towns of Djenne world heritage site, MaliBlack and white ruffed lemur, Rainforests of the Atsinanana world heritage site, Madagascar

Robben Island - South Africa

Map showing the location of the Robben Island UNESCO world heritage site (South Africa)

Website Category: European Colonial Influences  

Area: 4.8 km2 

Inscribed: 1999 

Criteria: (iii) cultural tradition (vi)  association with belief system

Location and Values:  Robben Island is located about 9 km off the South African coast near Cape Town.  It is the site of the maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 20 years, alongside others who fought against the racist policies of the (white) Apartheid government of the time. The Island has come to symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, and of democracy over oppression.  In fact, use of the island as a prison dates back to the early years of colonisation, soon after van Riebeck arrived in 1657 to establish a Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope.

Slideshow of Robben Island:   Most of the photos in this short slide show (provided by the South African World Heritage Site photo library) are taken in and around the maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela was detained, and include pictures of the actual prison cell where he spent many years of his life. There are also pictures of a small church built by lepers, and a nearby graveyard, dating from the late 19th century when the island was used as a leper colony. The island’s stunning situation is also shown, looking out towards Cape Town with Table Mountain behind, as well as the island’s colony of African Penguins.


Slideshow of Robben Island:


Comments and Impressions:  Robben Island has become something of a ‘pilgrimage’ site for visitors and is very easily accessible by catamaran from Cape Town, linked to a bus tour of the island’s main sights.  Obviously, this is a very ‘political’ nomination for the world heritage list, which serves as a ‘window’ on the ‘final phase’ of Africa’s European colonial experience and some of the injustices that were perpetrated during that time.

Google Earth View:  To view satellite imagery of Robben Island on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing other world heritage sites around Africa. It is worth panning in and out to see the island’s location in relation to Cape Town and other parts of the Cape of Good Hope.

Links to other places featuring European colonial influences:  Kunta Kinteh  I  Ghana Forts  I  Fort Jesus  I  Essaouira  I  Mazagan  I  Mozambique Goree  I  Saint-Louis  I  Cidade Velha I Asmara Modernist City 

Other Links:     Official UNESCO Site Details  I  SA WH Photo Library  I  National Heritage Council (SA)

Prison watchtower at the Robben Island UNESCO world heritage site (South Africa) Notorious prison cell block where Nelson Mandela and other ANC activists were held on Robben Island UNESCO world heritage site (South Africa) View of Cape Town and Table mountain from the shores of Robben Island (UNESCO world heritage site, South Africa) Prison cell where Nelson Mandela was held on Robben Island UNESCO world heritage site (South Africa)



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