Nelson Mandela Bay’s renovated Campanile plays host to the arts

Words: Luvuyo Bangazi | MBDA Spokesperson

One of Port Elizabeth’s most visible skyline and audible heritage landmarks, the Campanile, has been unveiled and opened to the public after renovations and upgrades.

Nelson Mandela Bay
Local artworks displayed inside a gallery at the Campanile

     The Campanile Memorial has a climb of 204 steps that takes one to the Observation Room, offering a magnificent view of the harbour and surroundings, more than 52 metres above the city. It contains the largest carillon of bells in the country in addition to its chiming clock.

To keep with this growth trend and to ensure that the city provides ample opportunities for creative and arts communities, several galleries and exhibition spaces have been incorporated on various floors of the Campanile memorial

Innovative new features

Nelson Mandela Bay
View of the Campanile tower from the City Square

   The Campanile Memorial has a climb of 204 steps that takes one to the Observation Room, offering a magnificent view of the harbour and surroundings, more than 52 metres above the city. It contains the largest carillon of bells in the country in addition to its chiming clock. Some of the new features of the Campanile include an interactive visual-technology array, dubbed ‘Ghost Bells’ – bell proxies installed under the actual bell carillon. These visually light up during chiming or when visitors press the keys of an interactive silver console to match the pitch of a key with the corresponding bell. Another addition includes the harbourviewing window – an observation deck capsule at the top of the 50-metre Campanile memorial, suspending visitors in the sky as they overlook the Port Elizabeth harbour.
A new reception area, which will act as an information desk, and several exhibition areas within the Campanile have been developed for the city’s creative communities. Other features include a silver plaque on the 67th step of the 204-step spiralling staircase to acknowledge Nelson Mandela’s 67 years in service of democracy.
The new upgrades and renovations introduce a host of innovative new features and activities, with the potential to revive tourism experiences at other heritage sites.
     A special computerised, purpose-built, electro-mechanical bell ringing system has also been installed for the Campanile’s 17-tonne bell carillon that was removed, restored and reinstalled by the MBDA over the last year to ensure that the crispness of each bell is pitch perfect. The Campanile bell can now play any melody that is programmed into its state-of-the-art digital interface.

For South Africa, it is an important time for all universities with the present debates about colonial values, decolonisation and about post-colonial values

Promoting and driving Mandela Bay’s creative economy

   The Campanile has also been upgraded and developed to be an economic asset to grow, develop and promote Mandela Bay’s creative and arts economy, according to the Executive Mayor.
Pointing to recent studies by the South African Cultural Observatory (SACO), the Executive Mayor said the cultural and creative industries grow at a faster rate than noncultural sectors of the economy.
‘To keep with this growth trend and to ensure that the city provides ample opportunities for creative and arts communities, several galleries and exhibition spaces have been incorporated on various floors of the Campanile memorial.
‘The inclusion of these spaces will ensure that the city’s arts, culture and heritage communities benefit from heritage tourism and urban renewal,’ he said.

Nelson Mandela Bay
Art exhibition currently on at the Campanile

Creating a new heritage identity

     The Executive Mayor said that while the upgrades and renovations of the Campanile focused on fixing a memorial site that began falling into disrepair, the city simultaneously had to explore how it would decolonise the heritage landscape of the Campanile. ‘A strategic imperative was to construct a new heritage identity for the Campanile,’ he said.
     The Executive Mayor also noted inscriptions in Afrikaans and isiXhosa were made on some bells – all but six bells were contributed chiefly by descendants of the 1820 settlers as tribute to their forebears. Through new inscriptions, the bells have been rededicated to all people of Nelson Mandela Bay and also 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 whom were black South African troops.
     He also indicated that the addition of the art galleries allowed the NMBM to move the Campanile from a colonial artefact into an inclusive public space as ‘the creative power of arts and culture remains a vehicle of democracy, an instrument to address current challenges and issues facing all South Africans and a tool to engender new narratives and transformation.’

Public art urban meander

     The Campanile also provides ample opportunities for creative and arts communities with several galleries and exhibition spaces incorporated on various floors.
     All of these new features offer a welcoming start to the city’s iconic Route 67 – a public art urban meander dedicated to Nelson Mandela which has its starting point at the Campanile.

Tours

     The Campanile is open to the public Monday to Saturday from 08:00 to 17:00 weekdays and until 15:00 on Saturdays. For more info visit www.route67tours.co.za

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