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History of Cape Town

History of Cape Town

Cape Town has a rich, evocative and sometimes, tragic history, which is held dear and diligently preserved through architecture and arts, museums and monuments. The modern-city bears the influences and celebrates the diversity of the peoples who have created it.

Cape Town has a fascinating history with the mingling of an array of cultures and the clashing of destinies over hundreds of years. There is scant knowledge of the area in pre- and Stone Age times, and no substantial evidence of early human ancestors. Early European visitors and settlers came upon the KhoiKhoi people, a south-western African division of the Khoisan race. It is reported that these traditional hunter-gatherers were in fact living a pastoral existence herding Nguni cattle. The area was first mentioned by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1486, who was the first known European to sail around the southern tip of Africa. By the late 16th Century, Dutch, Portuguese, French, Danish and British ships regularly berthed in Table Bay and traded for fresh meat and produce with the KhoiKhoi inhabitants.

In 1652, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) sent Commander Jan van Riebeeck and his crew to establish a fresh produce way-station for their passing ships at the site of the present-day city of Cape Town. The Dutch brought vines, fruit, vegetables and cereals that dramatically changed the natural environment and shaped the endeavours of future generations. This was the first European settlement in South Africa. The Dutch settlers soon experienced a shortage of labour to tend their expanding agricultural gardens, and so imported slaves from Indonesia and Madagascar, many of whom became the ancestors of the current, dominant, mixed race population, often referred to as Coloured or ‘so-called Coloured’.

Colonial History

In 1679, Simon van der Stel was appointed by the VOC as Governor of the Cape signifying that it was no longer just a company asset, but a Dutch colony. He was an intrepid explorer with wine-making experience who soon established his extensive vineyards in Constantia and founded the town of Stellenbosch, some 100 kilometres from Cape Town, and now a major wine-producing region of the world. During the upheavals of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, the British Empire set its sights on the Dutch colonies including Cape Town. After a number of skirmishes, the Cape colony was ceded to Britain in 1814, and it served as the staging point for Britain’s imperialism into Southern African.

Highlights include:

• The Company Gardens, Houses of Parliament and South African National Gallery
• District Six Museum, Cape Town City Hall and the Castle of Good Hope
• The Malay Quarter, known as the Bo-Kaap on the foot of Signal Hill, and the Bo-Kaap Museum
• Rhodes Memorial on the slopes of Devil’s Peak
• Cape Point
• Groot Constantia wine estate
• Historic towns such as Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek
• Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
• Robben Island Museum, a World Heritage Site

Our professionally guided Cape Town Day Tours, Cape Town Experiences, Cape Town Adventures and Cape Town Getaways will help you make the most of your visit.