The Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex includes the site where it is thought that the first recorded contact between the Khoekhoen and European seafarers happened. It is here where the Portuguese seafarer Bartolomeu Dias, the first European who managed to sail around the southern tip of Africa, landed in 1488. Dias’s journey not only opened the sea route between Europe and Asia but would eventually lead to the colonization of southern Africa.
While colonialism’s devastating consequences for the local people are acknowledged today, the museum was established to celebrate the 'achievement' of European seafarers.
The Mossel Bay Museum was established on the 23rd of August 1960 and opened to the public in 1963. The museum did not have a theme, but the public was asked to donate local history objects. On11 August 1978, the Board of Trustees of the Mossel Bay Museum decided to preserve the 'Post Office Tree' and site of the original freshwater spring. The development of this area was approved on 15 November 1982 and on 1 April 1984, the Mossel Bay Museum became a provincial museum renamed the Post Office Tree Provincial Museum.
In 1987, a National Festival Committee Dias was established to commemorate the arrival of Bartolomeu Dias 500 years earlier. This commemoration culminated in the renaming of the museum to the Bartolomeu Dias Museum on 3 February 1989.
The three buildings of the museum were given different themes, namely:
- Granary: Reception/information and exhibitions of the surrounding areas.
- Maritime Museum: The Portuguese maritime history from 1488 and their connection with the English and Dutch explorers. The Maritime Museum also includes exhibitions of Mossel Bay and its residents.
- Shell Museum and Aquarium: Sea and land snails, shells, and their ecology. How mollusks and shells are used by mankind.
Over the next few years, the Museum will be working towards developing a new museum visitor experience and interpretation of the history of the town.
The museum grounds are large and consist of various sections, including:
- The Granary: Reception area and conference facilities
- The Maritime Museum: 1988 Commemoration of Dias’s voyage, including a replica of 1488 Bartolomeu Dias Caravel and a souvenir shop.
- The Shell Museum and Aquarium
- The Post Office Tree
- The Chapel
- The Padrão
- The Reconstructed freshwater spring
- Whale watching site
- The Ethno-botanical and Indigenous Field Garden
- The Mossel Bay Archaeology Educational Project
- Munro’s Hoek cottages
- The Muslim burial site
The museum is situated near the beach from where whales can be observed from June to November. Shops, restaurants, banks, and the tourist information center are all within walking distance.
Axelson, E. (ed) (1988): Dias and his successors. Saayman & Weber, Cape Town.
Fagan, G. & Axelson, E. (1984): Die Posboom Provinsiale Museumkompleks, Mosselbaai. Kaapstad: Departement van Natuur- en Omgewingsbewaring van die Provinsiale Administrasie van die Kaap die Goeie Hoop.