Welcome to Cape Town and the Western Cape, an area considered one of the most beautiful in Africa, and whose character results from the cultural melting pot of Indonesian, French, Dutch, British & German settlers, the local Khoisan (Bushman & Hottentot) tribes and the Bantu tribes from the north.
The paternal presence of Table Mountain, the pristine coastline with its white sandy beaches, the magnificent countryside with its bountiful rivers, vleis and dams, and the unique flora kingdom, together with the warm summer climate and friendly community, makes the Western Cape perfect for any vacation.
SOME PLACES OF INTEREST:
CAPE TOWN CITY CENTRE:
Cape Town's central city area is small and the many places of interest are closely situated and best explored on foot. A good starting point for your city walk would be the Castle of Good Hope, which has guided tours at the top of the hour, every hour - visitors are not permitted to sightsee on their own. Jan van Riebeeck's fort was Cape Town's first building. After ten years, this fort, made largely from wood and sods, became inadequate and, with the constant threat of war between Holland and Britain, plans were made for the construction of a permanent castle. For effective defence purposes a pentagonal, bastioned structure based on Vauban's system was chosen.
The cornerstone was laid in 1666 by Governor Zacharias Wagenaar and the construction of the Castle was carried out by the engineer Pieter Dombaer; the skilled work being done by soldiers while slave labour was used for the rough work. The Castle was first occupied in 1674, though not completed until five years later. The five bastions were named after the titles of the Prince of Orange - Leerdam, Oranje, Nassau, Buren and Katzenellenbogen. Between the latter two bastions was the original entrance, facing onto the seashore. However, because of constant flooding, and the fear that the sea entrance might present danger in the event of a naval attack, the gates were moved by Simon van der Stel in 1682 to their present position, and were embellished with the carved coat of arms of the six chamber cities of the Dutch East india Company, their Monogram (VOC) and surmounting all, the crest of the United Netherlands. This gateway was given added splendour by the addition of the 'klompie-brick' bell tower, the date cast into the bell being 1697.
It was Commissioner van Reede van Oudtshoorn who was responsible for the building of the Kat, a 12 metre high building cutting right across the open courtyard. It houses the 'William Fehr Collection' of paintings, the highlights of which include old paintings depicting the Cape. The famed Kat Balcony (see photo), with its sculpture by Anton Anreith, is certainly the most beautiful aspect of the Castle. The Governor's residence was on the Mountain side of the Castle together with a large council chamber which, during Lady Anne Barnard's time, became her reception hall.
Flanked by Buitengracht & Darling Streets is Cape Town's Grand Parade, the scene of many a military and political gathering and today occupied by a flea market and a parking area for motor cars. It is overlooked by the imposing Italian-style City Hall, built out of sandstone. Cape Town was without a town hall until 1905. Designed in the Italian Renaissance style, the City Hall was the last major Victorian building to be erected in Cape Town. The mosaic floors and marble staircase leading up past the stained glass window, commemorating King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, are magnificent, as is the organ with 3,165 pipes, especially planned for the hall by Norman Beard, and is one of the finest in the country.
Turning left into Adderley St (Cape Town's main street) is the 'Groote Kerk' (Great Church). A cruciform building had been started as far back as 1678, but it was not until 1700 that Governor Willem Adriaan van der Stel had entirely new foundations laid for a thatched and gabled church. The congregation grew rapidly and in 1789 a magnificent carved pulpit was installed, the work of Anton Anreith and Jan Graaff, the carpenter. Later, the new church was designed and built by Hermann Schutte and dedicated in 1841 - an outstanding feature being the immense vaulted ceiling with plaster rosettes from which hung chandeliers.
Cape Town's Cultural History Museum lies at the entrance to the Company's (Dutch East India Company) Gardens at the top of Adderley Street. It was originally built as a slave lodge by Willem Adriaan van der Stel, to house the slaves working in the gardens. After the second British occupation, the slaves were sold and in 1810 Thibault and Schutte converted the slave lodge into government offices, and finally into a courtroom. In use as a courtroom for over a century, the building was subsequently used for various other quarters of officialdom. Now restored and in use as the Cultural History Museum which contains an interesting collection of early postal stones, and the history of postage and currency in South Africa. There are many examples of furniture, glass ceramics, weapons, musical instruments and toys from the many countries whose people settled in South Africa. The archaeological section has interesting objects of Egyptian, Greek & Roman origin. The reconstructed tombstone of Jan van Riebeeck stands in the courtyard.
The Company's Gardens: Houses of Parliament: Plans were initially designed by Charles Freeman and incorporated a high central dome, Corinthian porticos and pavilions at the four corners. Statues surmounted the parapets and there were fountains in the gardens. The foundation stone was laid by Governor Sir Henry Barkly in 1875. Later it was found that the foundations were inadequate and Freeman was replaced as resident architect. Henry Greaves drew up an amended set of Freeman's plans and eventually in 1884, the Houses of Parliament were completed. Sir Herbert Baker later designed a new House of Assembly.
On the other side of the entrance to the Company's Gardens is St George's Cathedral. The foundation stone was laid in 1830 by Governor Sir Lowry Cole and at the same time Eerste Berg Dwars Straat was named St George's Street. The existing church was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and Francis Masey. The buttress stone, inscribed with Arts and Crafts lettering, was laid by the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) in 1901.
Tuynhuys, the Company's Guest House was built in 1700 to accommodate important visitors to the Cape. It was enlarged fifty years later by Governor Tulbagh and further alterations were made in the late 18th century by Governor van de Graaff. The building was later remodelled for use as Government House. A magnificent staircase was installed as well as fireplaces and other essentials thought necessary by the British. Governor Lord Charles Somerset was the builder of the exquisite ballroom and many of the redecorations carried out at Government House can be attributed to him. It was his intent that the house be suitable for the representative of the Monarchy. Tuynhuys is now the office of the State President and is closed to the public.
The South African Library was designed by William Kohler and his designs were based on the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The opening ceremony was performed by Prince Alfred in 1860 and an impressive portrait of Queen Victoria's son hangs in the main reading room. Governor Sir George Grey was responsible for this magnificent building and a collection of his books and manuscripts are to be viewed here. They include a copy of Shakespeare's first folio.
The South African National Gallery displays over 6 500 works of art by South African and international artists. The permanent Sir Abe Bailey Collection can be viewed here. Film shows, lectures and workshops are held throughout the year.
The Great Synagogue, in Government Avenue behind the Gallery, is one of Cape Town's outstanding buildings and was the first synagogue in South Africa. The foundation stone was laid in 1904 by Governor Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson and was opened in 1905. Standing alongside is the Old Synagogue, opened in 1863, which now houses historical and ceremonial treasures of the Jewish Museum. Its Egyptian Revival architecture is common only to the Egyptian Building higher up the avenue and the Paarl Gymnasium in Paarl. The Holocaust Museum is close by and is highly recommended.
Further up Cape Town's Government Avenue, turn right into the South African Museum, which may also be reached via Queen Victoria Street. It houses permanent displays of natural history (marine life and birds), geology, ethnology, archaeology and printing. The collection of Bushman relics and lifelike figures (created by the artist James Drury at the turn of the century), the Bushman paintings exhibit, and dioramas of the fossil rich Karoo and its reptiles, are notable. A recent addition is the impressive Whale Well.
Cape Town's Planetarium is part of a R20 million extension of the South African Museum and was completed in 1987. Spectacular audio-visual shows simulating panoramic terrestrial landscapes and celestial subjects, are a feature.
Visit Jewel Africa on the corner of Bloem and Buitengracht Street. Hear all about the four C's of diamonds and watch how rough stones are cut and polished into brilliant diamonds. See the workings of a platinum workshop. African craftwork made of verdite, wood, stone, ceramic and copper. Experience the magic of Africa's largest gold chain factory and see how our goldsmiths design and complete a unique item of jewellery.
Further up Government Avenue are the ornamental gateways guarded by the Stone Lions sculpted by Anton Anreith. Within these on the right lie buildings housing several departments of the University of Cape Town, The Michaelis School of Fine Arts, The Little Theatre and Bertram House , the only surviving brick Georgian house in Cape Town. Built by a Yorkshireman named Barker, and named after his wife Ann Bertram Findlay, it was completed in 1839. An 18th century watercourse runs at the back of the house which once led to a nearby mill. The Ann Lidderdale Collection forms the nucleus of the exhibits with examples of fine furniture, ceramics, silver and objects d' art.
Within the gardens are a number of statues, monuments and ponds including the Memorial to South African soldiers killed at Delville Wood during the First World War. The grey squirrels which inhabit the trees lining the Avenue are a delight.
Leaving the Company's Gardens and returning to Cape Town's city centre via Long Street you will pass a delightful collection of small shops and restored buildings of architectural interest. The old Palm Tree Mosque is the only surviving 18th century house which was built by Carel Lodewijk Schot in the late 1780s. The building was converted into a mosque in the early years of the 19th century by the son-in-law of the Imam.
The Blue Lodge remains the only magnificently decorated Victorian corner building in the city. It was originally designed by Max Rosenberg as a rooming house. One of the city's most treasured buildings is the Sendinggestig built in 1804. It became the mother church of Dutch Reformed missionary activity. It houses valuable documents relating to early churchmen.
Continuing your walk, you reach Greenmarket Square, which is still covered by market stalls and continues to serve its original function. The original cobblestones are still in existence and a thriving flea market is flanked by a number of restaurants and coffee shops. On the one side is the Old Town House whose foundation stone was laid in 1755 and completed in 1761. Originally the Burgher Watch House, it is now a gallery housing some fine works of art including the Michaelis Collection of old Dutch and Flemish masters.
The Metropolitan Methodist Church, on the corner of Burg Street and the Square, is a Gothic building which was regarded by Capetonians of old as the finest place of worship in the country.
The St George's Mall used to be a congested city street until closed off for the use of pedestrians. It is flanked by shops and a number of restaurants and coffee shops with umbrella shaded outdoor seating. Buskers entertain passers-by and there are many stalls selling a variety of goods.
Cape Town's Strand Street runs down from the slopes of Signal Hill through the centre of the City. Koopmans DeWet House was completed in 1701 and is a prime example of a typical Cape Town House. The land was granted to Reyner Smedinga by Willem Adriaan van der Stel. He imported building materials from Holland and built his house in Strand Street, which was the most fashionable area of town. The facade was remodelled by Thibault in the late 18th century, with Anreith carrying out the sculpturing decorations.
At the back of the house are the slave quarters and a courtyard. The house was acquired by the de Wet family in the early 19th century and remained in their possession until Marie de Wet married Christoffel Koopmans. Marie made a fine collection of furniture that forms the nucleus of the museum today. The exhibits portray the lifestyle of a successful 18th century businessman. The house became a place of famous social and political gatherings, with persons such as Cecil John Rhodes and Paul Kruger having visited here. The building and its contents were purchased in 1913 to form a museum.
In 1771, Martin Melck gave his fellow Lutherans permission to hold services in his barn in Strand Street. A few years later, consent was given to convert the barn into the Lutheran Church. The church's carved pulpit by Anreith has become famous. Melck had set aside land next to the church for a parsonage, though it was only after his death that it was built. Designed by Anreith, Martin Melck House is the only surviving example of an 18th century townhouse complete with dakkamer (roof-room). On the other side of the church is the Sexton's House, built in 1787. It is now restored and serves as the Netherlands Embassy.
Within the vast shopping complex of Cape Town's Golden Acre in Adderley Street, one is able to view the remains of part of the reservoir built in 1663 by Governor Zacharias Wagenaar. It is the oldest remaining structure in South Africa. The original waterline prior to the land being reclaimed from the sea is indicated on the floor of the Golden Acre.
Rust-en-Vreugd in Buitenkant Street is an 18th century house containing the bulk of the noted William Fehr Collection of water-colours and valuable Africana (the remainder is housed at the Castle).
The Archives in Roeland St, situated in the old Roeland Street Gaol, contains extremely interesting maps, documents, pictures and photographs dating back to the earliest days of the Cape.
The Malay Quarter, up the slopes of Signal Hill above Buitengracht Street, is a residential area of people descended from Malay slaves and immigrants brought to the Cape during the Dutch occupation. The Malay community was established by Sheikh Yusuf of Batavia on his arrival at the Cape in 1693. The earliest of the houses in the Bo-Kaap were erected at the close of the 18th century. Traditional flat-roofed houses, minarets and mosques are a feature. The Bokaap Museum, in Wale Street, is a typical example of this type of building and it portrays the lifestyle of a 19th century Malay family.
Cape Town's Victoria and Alfred Waterfront development has grabbed the imagination of Capetonian and visitor alike. With majestic Table Mountain as a backdrop and the unique interest of the 'working harbour', it is not surprising that the 'Waterfront' has become Cape Town's most popular attraction. Its success has largely been built upon local support and attracts over a million visitors a month, of which 70% are Capetonians.
For over a century The Dutch East India Company contributed to the development of the Cape of Good Hope. The arrival of their merchant ships, laden with spices and treasures from markets explored, caused great excitement in the community. Times have changed, yet the same spirit lives on at the Waterfront Craft Market, where craftsmanship and artistry of an ageless quality are captured in a market for the explorer at heart.
Shops cover gemstones, curios and fancy fashions to the silliest souvenirs. It is also well stocked with restaurants, taverns, cinemas, theatres and a variety of entertainment including boat trips and charters. Try the historical walks.
It is advisable to first visit the V&A Waterfront Information Centre. They are there to help you with friendly advice, directions and up-to-the minute information on activities and events. They will even arrange bookings for tours and taxis.
A trip to Robben Island Museum is a must for any visitor to Cape Town. Visit the prison cell where Nelson Mandela spent many of his years in prison. For nearly 400 years, Robben Island, 12 kilometres from Cape Town, was a place of banishment, exile, isolation and imprisonment. It was here that rulers sent those they regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society. During the apartheid years Robben Island became internationally known for its institutional brutality. The duty of those who ran the Island and its prison was to isolate opponents of apartheid and to crush their morale. Some freedom fighters spent more than a quarter of a century in prison for their beliefs. Those imprisoned on the Island succeeded on a psychological and political level in turning a prison 'hell-hole' into a symbol of freedom and personal liberation. Robben Island came to symbolise, not only for South Africa and the African continent, but also for the entire world, the triumph of the human spirit over enormous hardship and adversity.
The Imax cinema is situated at the Portswood Road entrance to the Waterfront. The main feature of Imax is the super-realistic image on a screen five stories high.
The Two Oceans Aquarium offers an exciting insight into the indigenous fresh and seawater creatures of South Africa.
The Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre forms the bulk of the retail space at the Waterfront, and presents the shopper with a wide variety of national retailers, boutiques and services, along with a large selection of restaurants, coffee shops and fast food outlets.
The Alfred Mall & Pierhead is situated within the historic Pierhead and overlooks the small craft harbour and adjacent dry dock. Those seeking quality specialist artefacts, jewellery, curios and art with a nautical or African flavour will find a wonderful selection here.
The Red Shed Craft Workshop, adjoining the Victoria Wharf centre, is filled with an eclectic mix of handmade merchandise and art and has an atmosphere that brings the shopper closer to the creator.
The Waterfront Craft Market represents the Waterfront's culture of entrepreneurship and micro business development. This vibrant indoor craft market, adjacent to the Two Oceans Aquarium, features a diverse assortment of innovative designs and traditional handcrafts, antiquities and holistic lifestyle accessories.
The South African Maritime Museum has the largest collection of model ships and some fascinating artifacts. There is also a floating exhibit, the S.A.S. Somerset.
Other items of historical interest are the Time Ball Tower, (which was once used by ships in the bay to set the time) and the Old Clock Tower, built in 1887. The topmost floor housed the clock mechanism, while the bottom floor housed the elaborate tide-gauge operated by a float on the water below. The Clock Tower Centre, across the swingbridge from the Pierhead, is the latest addition to the V&A Waterfront's retail offering. It brings South African crafts, arts, designs and foods together in one centre, along with facilities appealing to tourists and locals alike.
Cape Fur Seals can be viewed by taking a boat ride around the harbour.