Kimberley’s Big Hole

A museum and more honor this diamond town’s unique history

By: By Kenneth Shapiro

 Photo: Big Hole // (c) 2008
Kimberley's Big Hole

Visitors to South Africa may not immediately think of the city of Kimberley. It’s not one of the country’s famous cities, like Cape Town and Johannesburg. It’s not known for safaris or part of South Africa’s wine region. In fact, Kimberly is known more for what is no longer there, than what is there.


More particularly, the dirt that hid one of the richest diamond mines in world history.

At one time, from around 1875 to the turn of the century, Kimberly, the capital of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, was the epicenter of the world diamond market and the headquarters for De Beers. The diamond industry gave rise to this frontier town and the mines became a magnet for fortune-seekers and colorful characters in much the same way the Gold Rush did in the U.S. Today, guests can visit one of the most tangible remains of their dreams and hard labor, The Big Hole.

Created by hand — with pick axes and shovels — The Big Hole, or the Kimberley Mine, is the largest hand-dug excavation in the world. Mined to a depth of more than 700 feet, 27 metric tons of diamonds were taken from the hole over the years. Now closed, the hole is a monument to this once-booming local industry and a tourist attraction in its own right.

The Kimberley Mine Museum is now open on the site, along with a reconstructed frontier mining village complete with working pubs, restaurants and shops. The museum tells the local history of the region and provides an overview of the diamond industry throughout the world. Guests can see how an underground mining operation functioned and enter a high-security area to see samples of various diamonds firsthand.

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