Here are a few fascinating things you probably don’t know about Cape Town…
1. Cape Town is the best place in the world to visit
According to the New York Times (2014). The Telegraph Travel Awards voted Cape Town the ‘best city in the world’ in 2013; it is one of the top 25 destination in the world, according to Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards; and Africa dot com voted Cape Town the most liveable city in Africa.
2. All the hype about Jan van Riebeeck is misleading
He and the Dutch East India Company officially ‘founded’ South Africa in 1652 but Bartholomew Dias rounded the southern tip of Africa and, after enduring the turbulence, called it the Cape of Storms as far back as 1488.
He later renamed it, under pressure to please the King of Portugal, hence its name – the Cape of Good Hope.
3. The Portuguese and Dutch were not the first people in SA
They might have been the first Europeans in the Cape, but the coastal regions of the south-western Cape were already densely occupied by the Khoikhoi and the San people.
They were dispossessed of their land, exterminated or enslaved by the Dutch, and their numbers dwindled. They were called ‘Hottentots’ by the settlers because of the sounds of their language (hence the Hottentots Holland Mountains).
4. Cape Town is the only city in the world to lie on two oceans
On one side of the peninsula lies the Atlantic; on the other the Indian Ocean.
5. Cape Point is not, however, where the two oceans meet. Or is it?
It seems that someone really did draw a line to demarcate where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet (the International Hydrographic Organisation) and they place the ‘line’ somewhere closer to Agulhas, Africa’s most southern tip. But, argues Cape Town, what of the obviously different temperatures of the sea on either side of the peninsula? Due, apparently, to False Bay’s sheltered and more shallow waters.
Cape Point is then not where two oceans meet. However, the reality is that winds often blow the warm current allowing it to drift as far as Cape Point.
6. Cape Town has reclaimed land from the sea
The Castle of Good Hope, the oldest colonial building in the country, was built with its walls as thick and high as they are to ward off the sea that once encroached on its walls and entrance.
Cape Town’s Foreshore (which lies between the castle and the sea)is on reclaimed land. Until the 1940s the 194 hectares on the southern and south-eastern shore of Table Bay that includes Woodstock and Paardeneiland was under water. Interestingly, the reclamation was carried out by a Dutch firm, the Hollandse Aanneming Maatschappij.
7. Cape Town is called the ‘Mother City’, but no-one actually knows why
There are a couple of theories – that it takes at least nine months to get anything done; that the overly expressive language of a certain kind of person in Cape Town involves using slang for ‘mother’ a LOT; but the jury is out as to the real reason.
8. Cape Town has 36 ‘lost’ springs and rivers
Cape Town’s streets once flowed with water; a river system of 4 rivers fed by 36 springs off Table Mountain. It still flows, but is all lost well beneath the city’s pavements, sent underground in tunnels by the British in the late 1800s.
Will Cape Town reclaim its camissa, its sweet waters, and bring them back up above ground?
9. Table Mountain was known as Hoerikwaggo
It was the name the Khoi-San gave to the ‘mountain of the sea’ and the name of a 5-day, 75 km hiking trail from Table Mountain to Cape Point (you can also do part of the hike).
10. Fires on Table Mountain, like the recent fire in 2015, are not uncommon
Despite the media hype – roughly once every 10 years there is a major fire (1935, 1947, 1950, 1960, 1974, 1982, 1986, 1991 etc.).
Fynbos needs to burn, just not quite as often as the accidental ignition resulting from human irresponsibility. It is apparently our attitudes to fires and fynbos that need to change, rather than the fires themselves. That people and their houses live so close to the fynbos on the mountain is a bigger issue.
11. Cape Town hosts the biggest queer party on the continent
The Mother City Queer Project (MCQP) is the largest dress-to-theme costume party in the country and in Africa.
The highlight of the gay calendar, it gets the summer season off to a flying start in Cape Town.
12. Cape Town has a piece of the Berlin Wall
At St George’s Mall. A big chunk of the wall was given to Nelson Mandela in the 1990s. In 2010 it was set outside the Mandela Rhodes Foundation at 150 St George’s Mall.
13. Cape Town has its own underground
The city has a series of abandoned canals (storm water run-off and streams off the mountain) that make up an underground system beneath the streets of the city of Cape Town, which you can explore on foot as part of a tour (make enquires at the Castle of Good Hope).
14. Cape Town is really BIG on sea
You can cage dive with sharks in Gansbaai (about an hour’s drive from Cape Town), snorkel with Cape fur seals in Hout Bay, free dive with all things pelagic, and swim with penguins at Boulders beach. Did we mention learning to surf at Muizenberg?
15. The Premier hosts a weekend market
When the popular weekly Oranjezicht City Farm Market lost its ‘home’ the Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, stepped up to the plate and offered the lawns and shade of Leeuwenhof (rumour has it: even the swimming pool). She has been spotted directing traffic outside her residence. While it lasts, head over to Hof Street for an early breakfast.