Martin Melck House

The setting for our permanent collection is itself noteworthy. Painstakingly restored in 2000, Martin Melck House built in 1783, is believed to be one of the finest remaining examples of old Cape Town domestic architecture. Its beginnings also coincide with the rise of the Akan kingdoms that created many of the objects in the museum’s collection.

Martin Melck House was originally the parsonage for the Evangelical Lutheran Church next door. The building was named after a wealthy businessman and benefactor of the church, Martin Melck of Elsenburg.

It was built a year after his death and is the only remaining example in Cape Town of an 18th century townhouse complete with a dakkamer—a dormer room at the top of the building where ships could be sighted approaching the harbour.
In 1774, Martin Melck donated a plot of land in Strand Street to the Lutherans. At the time the Lutherans were forced to worship in secret since there was no freedom of religion. Melck overcame this obstacle by building a church to resemble a schuilkerk—a store house.

The first public service was held in 1780 with the granting of religious freedom. The church was later beautified by Anton Anreith, the famous Cape Town sculptor. The parsonage forms part of the trilogy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church complex, arguably one of South Africa’s most beautiful architectural groupings. The façade has remained unchanged since the early 1820s. Anton Anreith is known to have sculpted the bas-relief and the magnificently carved wooden door in 1792. He is also believed to have sculpted the swan on the pediment; the symbol of the Lutheran faith.

The building has had a varied history as private residence, lodging house, art gallery, offices, restaurant and now museum.