Swakopmund Lighthouse

Namibia is purported to have some of the most beautiful postage stamps in the world. But what’s more fascinating are the stories behind the artful images they depict—plant and animal life, traditional cultures, history and landmark events. Many people are unfamiliar with Namibia—until they visit on our motorcycle safaris and fall in love with her.

This month we explore a a doomed project on Nambia’s coastline. But take heart, there’s a happy ending. 

Swakopmund Lighthouse

stamp lighthouse swakopmund lighthouse - artist unknown 1961 smallOne of the most prominent landmarks in this German colonial city, the lighthouse “flashed its first light into the world on February 12, 1903.” In spite of a precarious past, it’s still a nautical guideline, its powerful light reaching 33 km out to sea.

Swakopmound was created out of Imperial Germany’s desperate need for a harbour in its African colony. Walvis Bay, 30 km to the south was in British possession and strategically, a German access point was essential for military and colonization transit.

A pre-lighthouse beacon built at the end of the pier reached 6.5 metres and marked the entrance to the harbor. Less than five months after its inauguration, it was swept out to sea.

Construction of the lighthouse in a more secure location began in 1902 with the original 11 metres constructed of unpainted brick. In 1910, the cupola was removed, 16 metres painted in broad red and white stripes were added and the cupola replaced, completing the 28 metre structure that stands today.

Technological upgrades aside, interior renovations are less noticeable. A radio beacon was added in 1940 and in 1956, the intermittent light was automated. The lantern of the present light was installed in 1982. A storeroom and two dwellings at its base that housed the lighthouse keeper have become a restaurant.

The harbour project was doomed from the start. Rough seas delayed construction, the pier was washed away by heavy seas, and high waves brought in copious amounts of sand making it impossible for ships to berth. Attempts to turn Swakopmund into a harbour ended abruptly with the advent of the First World War. Germany lost its colony and the South African government used their existing deep-sea port of Walvis Bay.

No longer necessary as a harbour town, Swakopmund evolved into Namibia’s most popular holiday resort.

Source: Stamps and Stories, Vol. 1, 50 Stories on Namibia’s Postal Stamps, Gondwana Collection Namibia, & NamPost, 2012.