UNESCO Regional Director witnesses restoration of Blue Quarry Wall at Robben Island World Heritage Site

The UNESCO Regional Director for Southern Africa, Professor Hubert Gijzen, paid a courtesy visit to Robben Island on 8 May 2021, where he witnessed the restoration of the Bluestone Quarry Wall.

Archaeological and Heritage Services Africa have been tasked with the restoration of the Blue Stone Quarry Wall, through an experimental reconstruction of the Bluestone Quarry Wall. The Wall and Quarry specifically preserve memories of man’s endurance against adversities imposed by his own kind. The wall is one of the surviving symbols of punishment with production.

According to the team working on the site, understanding the historical development of the Blue Stone Quarry Walls and its cultural significance underpins the approaches and methods to rehabilitate and maintain the site.

A number of political and social activities affecting the course of the political struggle and the lives of the inmates took place at the quarry. Thus, the restoration of such a significant site in South Africa’s history is paramount.

Debris from the site will build the dilapidated walls and the team shall consult records from the prison to determine the shape of the walls. The introduction of new materials to strengthen and stabilise a historic structure is generally acceptable as a conservation strategy. The Burra Charter guides the team and it urges a precautionary principle based on the respect for the existing fabric, use, associations and meanings. (Article 3.1 of the Burra Charter).

The restoration exercise started on 7 October 2019 and was expected to be completed in 2020. However, due to the restrictions of the COVID19 pandemic the implementation plan was postponed to 2021.

Robben Island is known for being the place former South African president Nelson Mandela was jailed for 18 of his 27 years and the Bluestone Quarry Wall, situated at the island, was made by prisoners using waste from the stone quarry.  The island was inscribed as a World Heritage site in 1999, as the prison buildings and surroundings symbolize the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom and of democracy over oppression.

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