Cape Agulhas Guest House

The History of Cape Agulhas

Africa's Southernmost Town

Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, has a fascinating history rich in exploration, trade routes, and centuries of maritime navigation. Tools found in the Agulhas region date back to more than a million years ago, and are said to have been made in the Early Stone Age. Fish traps and middens found in the area also support the region’s long history as a fishing village, with the abundant waters and rich ocean currents attracting the San and Khoekhoen people.

"Nothing More Beyond"

The point of Africa served as a geographical landmark during the settling of South Africa and the establishment of a global commerce route that connected the growing West with the prosperous East. During the Age of Exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese explorers marked Cape Agulhas as a pivotal juncture on the maritime map. As the first recorded mariners to round this historic cape, they established Cape Agulhas as a critical point for ships to replenish supplies before continuing the journey Eastward.

The Cape Agulhas Lighthouse

A Tale of Two Oceans

South Africa’s intricate maritime history saw more than 150 shipwrecks along its coastlines, most of which are are found around the tip of Africa (the Cape of Storms) at Cape Agulhas. However, the tumultuous waters surrounding the southernmost point of Africa also tell countless tales of old world adventures, and epic tales navigating new trade routes from West to East. Here, the warm Agulhas Current from the Indian Ocean meets the cold Benguela Current from the Atlantic Ocean, creating waters that ere as fierce and challenging as they are rich and abundant.

Image and information sourced from the Lighthouse Museum of Southern Africa.

Agulhas, The Name

Portuguese mariner, Bartholomeu Dias, originally named the Southernmost Tip of Africa “Ponto de Sao(n) Brandao” on 16 May 1488. From 1502, the name “Cabo das Agulhas” become more popular (and later changed to L’Agulhas under French influence). Directly translated, Cabo das Agulhas translates to “Cape of Needles”.

While the name is often attributed to the off-lying sharp rocks, early Portuguese navigators found that the compass needle showed no declination between true north and magnetic north, as magnetic north and geographic north coincided at Cape Agulhas around the 16th Century. 

In 1937, the official Yearbook of the Union of South Africa attributed the name to the resemblance of the coastline’s sharp rocks to needles.

The Village of L'Agulhas

Did you know that Cape Agulhas is the only settlement in South Africa to have been developed around a lighthouse?

1488 – Bartholomew Dias named the most southern point of Africa after St Agulhas.

1836 – Lieutenant-Colonel Charles C. Michell first proposes the need for a lighthouse.

1849 – Construction of the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse is completed.

1920 – Farmers and Travellers start settling by the lighthouse.

1936 – Construction of the first six houses in L’Agulhas is completed.

1937 – The first Village Management Board is established.

1974 – The Village Board is replaced by a municipality.

1985 – The municipality is taken over by the Bredasdorp / Swellendam Divisional Council.

Discover the Tip of Africa

BuildingThe Cape Agulhas Lighthouse

To help guide ships and mark the southernmost tip of the continent, the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse was erected in 1848. As South Africa’s second-oldest operational lighthouse, it stands as a testament to the region’s enduring maritime heritage and its crucial role in global navigation.