Capetown

Short history

Cape Town, known as the legislative capital of South Africa, has a compelling history that  goes back to its establishment in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company. Initially intended as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to the East Indies, it blossomed into the economic and cultural heart of the Cape Colony. The city went through a complex history designated by Dutch and British periods, each introducing its own cultural and architectural influences. The era of apartheid brought profound challenges to Cape Town, with forced removals and segregation, notably in areas like District Six. Resistance movements, with notable leadership from figures like Nelson Mandela, however, positioned the city as a crucible for change. Mandela’s imprisonment on Robben Island and subsequent release in 1990 symbolized the dawn of a new epoch, paving the way for South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. 

Geography

Cape Town is situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Table Mountain, at the northern end of the Cape Peninsula. The city’s relief is marked by the iconic flat-topped Table Mountain, alongside Signal Hill, Lion’s Head, and the Twelve Apostles, which are part of the mountainous spine extending down the Peninsula.

Cape Town’s climate is classified as Mediterranean, characterized by mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers, making it appealing year-round. The city’s geographical location significantly influences its weather patterns, contributing to its mild climate. On average, temperatures hover around 7°C (45°F) in the heart of winter during July, the coldest month. Conversely, the peak of summer in January sees average temperatures reaching 26°C (79°F), creating a warm but not oppressive climate.

The urban layout of Cape Town reflects its historical and socio-economic development through the apartheid era to the present day. The city center is compact and easily navigable, surrounded by residential suburbs that show a mix of architectural styles, from Victorian-era buildings to modern high-rises, indicative of the city’s evolving skyline. 

Population

As of the latest estimates, the city has a population exceeding 4.6 million people, making it the second-most populous city in South Africa after Johannesburg. The ethnic composition of Cape Town is varied, with a majority of its residents identifying as Coloured (mixed race), followed by Black Africans, Whites, and Asians. 

The cultural dynamics of Cape Town are influenced by its historical backdrop, with a notable blend of African, Asian, and European elements. Religion plays a significant role in the lives of many Capetonians, with Christianity being the predominant faith, alongside significant Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and traditional African religious communities.

Language in Cape Town is equally diverse, with English serving as the lingua franca. However, Afrikaans and Xhosa hold substantial importance in daily communication, reflecting the city’s multicultural identity. 

Main sights

  • Table Mountain: A prominent landmark providing panoramic views of Cape Town, known for its flat top which gives it its name. It’s accessible by cableway or hiking trails.
  • Robben Island: Located off the coast, this UNESCO World Heritage site is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Tours offer an insight into South Africa’s apartheid history.
  • Cape Point: Part of the Table Mountain National Park, Cape Point is famed for its dramatic sea cliffs, diverse flora, and historic lighthouse. It’s a prime spot for photography and nature walks.
  • Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden: World-renowned for its beauty and biodiversity, this garden against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain highlights South Africa’s unique flora.
  • V&A Waterfront: A mix of shopping, dining, and leisure facilities. It’s also home to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), the largest museum of contemporary African art.
  • District Six Museum: This museum commemorates the multicultural area that was destroyed during apartheid, telling the stories of forced removals and the resilience of the community.
  • Bo-Kaap: Known for its brightly colored houses and cobblestone streets, Bo-Kaap is the historical center of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town.

Food

  • Biltong: A form of dried, cured meat that originated in South Africa. Biltong is typically made from beef or game meats and is flavored with various spices, serving as a beloved snack across the city.
  • Bobotie: Considered the national dish of South Africa, Bobotie is a savory pie that contains spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping. Influences from Malaysian cuisine are evident in its preparation.
  • Malay Curry: Reflecting the strong Cape Malay influence on the city, Malay Curry is less spicy compared to other Asian curries but is rich in flavors thanks to a unique blend of South African spices.
  • Snoek and Chips: Snoek, a type of fish local to the Cape waters, is often grilled or barbecued and served with chips. This dish is a popular choice in coastal eateries.
  • Koeksisters: A sweet treat of Dutch origin, Koeksisters are twisted or braided doughnuts that are fried and soaked in syrup. 

Fun facts

  • Table Mountain’s Floral Kingdom: Table Mountain in Cape Town is home to over 1,500 plant species, more than the entire United Kingdom. This floral kingdom, part of the Cape Floral Region, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Robben Island’s Notable Prisoner: Nelson Mandela spent 18 out of his 27 years in prison on Robben Island, visible from Cape Town. This island prison has now become a symbol of the triumph of democracy and freedom over apartheid.
  • Cape Town’s Noon Gun: Since 1806, Cape Town has had a daily tradition where a cannon is fired from Signal Hill at 12:00 PM sharp, making it one of the oldest ongoing traditions in the city’s history.
  • Great White Shark Capital: The waters around Cape Town are known as the Great White Shark capital of the world, giving opportunities for shark cage diving and marine wildlife observation.
  • A City of Nicknames: Cape Town has several nicknames including the “Mother City,” believed to be because it was the first city in South Africa. Other names include the “Tavern of the Seas” and “The Cape of Storms,” reflecting its maritime heritage and tumultuous weather.