Living Heritage: Campanile memorial re-opens after 2 year-long renovations

2017-08-20 10:02 - Unathi Nkanjeni and Gabi Zeitsman
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Campanile memorial / Picture: Supplied

Cape Town - SA locals, as well as tourists, will once again have the pleasure of sauntering up and down the 204 Campanile memorial steps, after 2 year-long renovations to the Nelson Mandela Bay's heritage landmark.

Complete with breathtaking views, an art gallery and state-of-the-art bells, Port Elizabeth’s iconic Campanile memorial was officially relaunched and opened to the public on Tuesday, 15 August.

With an estimated cost of R18-million, the renovated 50m-tall building now boasts a top-notch lift topped with a viewing portal where visitors can enjoy 180-degree views of the harbour from the observation deck capsule.

Added to this, some of the upgrades and renovations - reinstalled by the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA) - to the 1820 Settler commemorative memorial include a complete overhaul of the interior of the building as well as the Campanile’s 17-ton bell carillon. 

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Installed under the actual 25-bell carillon are "ghost bells' that light up during chiming or when visitors press keys on an interactive silver console keyboard.

Originally only housing 23 bells, according to Economic Development, Agriculture and Tourism Mayoral Committee Member, Andrew Whitfield two additional bells were installed with new inscriptions dedicated to the people of Nelson Mandela Bay and the deceased crew of the SS Mendi, a ship which sank in 1917 in the English Channel and resulted in the deaths of 646 people, most of them black South African.

Whitfield says the long-awaited re-opening of the Campanile shows the diverse heritage of Port Elizabeth. 

“It most certainly introduces a very creative product to our existing basket of heritage tourism assets,” he says.

“It will also offer residents, tourists and holidaymakers a world-class tourism experience.”

Mandela Bay Development Agency's planning and development manager, Dorelle Sapere says the former colonial heritage site has been re-envisioned and will now stand for an era encompassing a new story for all the people of Nelson Mandela Bay.

“It was important for us to create a new story, to tell all of our stories,” says Sapere. “The newly installed lift is also very important in opening up the building to new audiences.”

Before the upgrades and renovations, the building only had stairs which meant senior citizens, as well as citizens with special needs, were not able to see the building from the inside on all floors. 

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According to Executive Mayor, Athol Trollip the Campanile was also upgraded and developed to be an economically-purposeful asset particularly to grow, develop and promote the Bay's creative and art economy.

"We need to keep both the old and the new, not forgetting the worst of our history but claim it and retell it," he says. "We need to expose its history and new heritage to the people of the city and not just focus on pulling in tourists, including setting up a tour with visitors in the city."

Trollip says if the local community knows the significance of the site they will protect it. 

"Urban renewal and social cohesion also an important element. The aim is to turn the Campanile into one of the most visited sites in the city, as the starting point of Route 67," says Trollip.

NOTE: The Campanile is open to the public on weekdays from 08:00 to 17:00 and Saturdays from 09:00 to 15:00. Admission is free but donations are welcomed.

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