Walk 103: Historic Cape Town & Bo Kaap

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3 miles (4.83 km)

Time to walk: This was a guided walk that lasted 3 hours with stops for explanations etc

Difficulty: All on hard surfaces. Quite hilly in the Bo-Kaap area

Parking: Not applicable

Public toilets: Cafes etc all around

Map of the route:

In 2017 we holidayed in beautiful South Africa & started the trip in Cape Town. Whenever we visit a new city we always look for the excellent free walking tours & in Cape Town there were two – Bo Kaap & the Historical City, neither of which covered the usual tourist spots of Table Mountain & the V&A Waterfront. We did both & have combined them to give you a give you a flavour of this very diverse city

Cape Town is the second most populous urban area in South Africa after Johannesburg & is also the capital city of the Western Cape province. As the seat of the Parliament of South Africa, it is also the legislative capital of the country. The city is famous for its harbour, for its natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region, & for such well known landmarks as Table Mountain & Cape Point

Cape Town was home to many leaders of the anti-apartheid movement. On Robben Island, many famous political prisoners. including Nelson Mandela, were held for years. Nobel Square in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront features statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners: Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, F.W. de Klerk & Nelson Mandela

Want to come & explore with us?

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts right in the middle of the city in Greenmarket Square which is a great place to pick up some local bargains (“It’s free to look & touch”). The square was built in 1696, when a burgher watch house was erected & over the years, & has served as a slave market, a vegetable market, a parking lot & more recently, a flea market trading mainly African souvenirs, crafts & curios

Near the centre of the square is a hand operated pump used to bring clean water to the surface from an underground river that runs through the city. During the apartheid era, Greenmarket Square was often the focus of political protests, due in part to its proximity to parliament, as well as the ethnicity of its traders & shoppers

In the years following Cape Town’s establishment in 1652 a number of streets came into existence above Strand Street (which followed the natural shoreline) & the Company’s Gardens which initially functioned as a market garden run by the Dutch East India Company to supply ships. The square developed naturally as the venue for the sale of fresh produce from the garden & surrounding farms. The sale of other goods & services including the sale of slaves followed shortly after. A fountain was established as a key point for townspeople to access drinking water

Following its establishment as a market the square became the administrative & social centre of the town with the construction of a burger watch house in 1696 to provide security. By the 1730s rural style thatch roofed dwellings around the square began to be replaced by flat roofed single & multiple story houses. In 1761, the watch house was demolished & the Old Town House built in the site. This building functioned as the city hall & Burgher Watch House for a period of time

2. Leave the square & cross Long Street down Shortmarket Street to Heritage Square. Close by is the site of the original Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital which moved to a new site in 2016. The hospital is a living tribute to its namesake, Professor Christiaan Barnard, a South African cardiac surgeon who performed the world’s first human to human heart transplant on 3 December 1967

On 3 December 1967, Barnard transplanted the heart of Denise Darvall, who had just died from a head injury, into the chest of a 54 year-old Louis Washkansky. Washkansky regained full consciousness & lived for eighteen days, even spending time with his wife, before he died of pneumonia, with the suppression of his immune system by the anti-rejection drugs being a major contributing factor. Barnard did state to Mr & Mrs Washkansky that the operation had an 80% chance of success, a claim which has been criticised as misleading

Barnard’s second transplant patient Philip Blaiberg at the beginning of 1968, lived for nineteen months

3. Cross straight over Buitengracht into Bo Kaap’s colourful Dorp Street. You should now be looking at Table Mountain as a back drop, but Cape Town’s position in the world means it can enjoy four seasons in one day!

The Bo Kaap was formerly known as the Malay Quarter. It’s a former township, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill & is an historical centre of Cape Malay culture. Bo Kaap is traditionally a multicultural area. The area is known for its brightly coloured homes & cobble stoned streets

The earliest development in the Bo Kaap area was undertaken in the 1760s by Jan de Waal. Subsequently, the area became known as Waalendorp. It has also been known as the Malay Quarter, the Slamse Buurt, & Scotcheskloof. Translated from Afrikaans, Bo Kaap means ‘Above the Cape’

In the 1700s, political exiles, slaves & convicts were sent to the Cape by the Dutch from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia & the Indonesian Archipelago. Although not technically correct, these individuals & their descendants became known as Cape Malays. Many of them eventually settled in the Bo Kaap. In the mid-twentieth century, the Apartheid government, under the Group Areas Act of 1950, declared the Bo Kaap a Muslims only area & forced people of other religions & ethnicity to leave the area. This case was unique because, during this time, most working class (& non-white) people in South Africa were being moved away from the cities

4. On the left is the country’s oldest mosque. Construction on the Auwal Mosque began in 1794, however, Muslims were only allowed to practice their religion in public from 1804. The mosque was built on land belonging to a freed Black Muslim slave called Coridon van Ceylon, whose daughter, Saartjie van den Caap, inherited & donated the land. Abdullah Kadi Abdus Salaam, also known as Tuan Guru, was the mosque’s first Imam. Tuan Guru was imprisoned on Robben Island for political reasons. While he was there, he wrote an entire Quran from memory which can be viewed at the Auwal Mosque

It is the first mosque to observe public prayers & is where Cape Muslim traditions & the Arabic-Afrikaans language were first taught. It remains a symbol for Muslims of the recognition of Islam & the freedom of slaves to worship

5. We continue up Dorp Street. Some of the murals are superb…

…& the clouds begin to lift slightly the more we climb

6. We could spend hours wandering around this intriguing area of the city & learnt such things like the people will always repaint their house for different occasions i.e. weddings etc

At the top of the street we turn right into Pentz where, across the road’s a well recommended local restaurant which reminds us of Queen & Freddie Mercury called Biesmiellah that serves typical Malay Cape cuisine such as the delicious Boboti

7. Walk  down the steps & through the archway…

The archway is decorated with historical pictures of the past culture of the community

Once through we continue to climb again & the houses appear to become even more colourful…

8. Turn right to descend the hill once more down Long Market Street passing the Boorhaanol Islam which is somewhat brighter than the original mosque we saw…

Boorhaanol Islam was built in 1884 & was originally known as Pilgrim Mosque. This was where the first minaret was built in Cape Town which was made of wood. After it blew off in a storm in the late 1930’s it was replaced by a concrete structure. It was then decided to renovate the entire mosque. It was during these renovations that the name of the mosque was changed to Masjied Boorhaanol Islam in 1970. It’s the only mosque in Cape Town to be declared a national monument

The Boorhaanol mosque was also very much concerned with the upliftment of the community & established the Boorhaanol Recreational Movement on 7 October 1966. This was initiated by Imam Abdurahmaan Bassier the Imam of the mosque at that time

At the bottom of the hill cross the two main roads to arrive back at Greenmarket Square

9. So that’s Bo Kaap done, now let’s go have a look at the historical side of Cape Town

Walk straight over the square to arrive at the Flower Market in Adderley Street – probably the most likely area in the city you might get pick-pocketed

Flower traders have operated here since the mid 1880’s & it’s quite a spectacular place with the many varieties of national flower, the Protea in abundance

10. Walk straight through & along to Grand Parade. We were told that this was once the shoreline. Stop by the statue of King Edward VII

Grand Parade served as a military parade ground for many years &, as South Africa’s oldest public space, is a place where something is always happening, whether it’s a flea market or a public demonstration

At the far end is the Castle of Good Hope, a bastion fort built in the 17th century.It was  originally located on the coastline of Table Bay, but over the years was relocated following land reclamation from the sea. In 1936 the Castle was declared a historical monument (now a provincial heritage site) & following restorations in the 1980s it’s considered the best preserved example of a Dutch East India Company fort

11. Grand Parade’s greatest claim to fame, however, is that it was where Nelson Mandela made his first speech to the nation after his release in 1990, & again in 1994 following his election as President

This was done from the balcony of the imposing City Hall

Built in 1905, does the stone look familiar? It should as it was imported from BathCity Hall, as its name suggests, was built to function as the centre of city administration & as such housed the offices of the City of Cape Town. These have since moved to the Cape Town Civic Centre

Nelson Mandela addressed 100 000 jubilant people just hours after his release from prison, on 11 February 1990. He was to borrow his then wife Winnie’s glasses to read, having left his in prison

“Comrades and fellow South Africans, I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom,” said Mandela. “I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people.”

In the build up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup the Grand Parade received a facelift to the tune of Rand 21 million to upgrade & repave what were the rather tired remains of a major landmark. The major upgrade of the space was intended to place Grand Parade back at the heart of the city, & certainly during the 2010 World Cup it functioned as a major fan park for football fans, whilst the usual traders were moved to other sites

12. Hungry? Facing City Hall we turn right & walk about 100 yards to reach the extremely diverse Eastern Food Bazaar. This is where South Africans come to eat huge portions of food & no plateful costs more than £5!! Walk through the bazaar, but keep your hand on your wallet as this is definitely pick-pocket country

13. Emerge safely on the other side into Church Square which lies on the corner of Parliament & Spin streets. This little cobbled square, though perhaps not much to look at, has only recently been reclaimed from its former role as a parking lot. The square is surrounded by architecturally impressive buildings & is a surprisingly quiet space in the heart of Cape Town

On the square is Groote Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church), which has stood here since 1704. The site was originally an abandoned garden plot at the bottom end of the Company Gardens. Interestingly, the only part of the original church still standing is the church tower. When it became unstable, Groote Kerk was rebuilt on the same site between 1813 & 1841

The statue is of Oom Jan, the parliamentarian Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr who fought for the rights of Dutch as a language equal to English

The square once functioned as a slave market & a slave tree once stood here, a place for slaves to wait whilst their owners went to church. The tree was removed in 1916 but the space remains commemorated

Eleven granite blocks were erected as a memorial to the slaves. Their sides are engraved with the names of former slaves – previously forgotten names

14. Across the other side of the square is a memory of times gone by…the Slave Lodge

The Slave Lodge is one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town. Over the past 300 years it’s had many names including the Slave Lodge, Government Offices Building, Old Supreme Court, & SA Cultural History Museum

In 1998 this museum was renamed the Slave Lodge. Under the umbrella theme, “From human wrongs to human rights”, exhibitions on the lower level of this museum explore the long history of slavery in South Africa

15. Walk past the building & turn right down the narrow pathway. The building behind the railings on the left’s the South African Houses of Parliament, guarded by our own Queen Victoria – we’ll get a better view from the park

Queen Victoria granted permission for the establishment of a Parliament in the Cape Colony in 1853. The first sittings were held in the Governor’s residence, the Tuynhuys, after which they were held in the Goede Hoop Masonic Lodge. The then upper house was housed in the old supreme court building, which itself had been the Slave Lodge

The building consists of three main sections, with the original building completed in 1884, with later editions added in the 1920s, & again in the 1980s. The newest addition currently houses the National Assembly, being the lower house of the Parliament of South Africa, while the original building houses the National Council of Provinces, which is the upper house

16. Enter Company’s Gardens which were originally created in the 1650s by the region’s first European settlers & provided fertile ground to grow fresh produce to replenish ships rounding the Cape. It’s watered from the Molteno Dam, which uses water from the springs on the lower slopes of Table Mountain

The large trees here are rubber trees

17. Walk through the gardens to arrive at the President’s Official Residence which is a beautiful colonial style building

The last State President of the Republic of South Africa, F.W de Klerk announced from its steps on 18 March 1992, that South Africa had ‘closed the book on apartheid

The building was constructed in 1700 by the Dutch East India Company as a residence for important visitors to the Cape. It has been used as an official residence by almost all the Governors of the Cape & by State Presidents after the country became a Republic in 1961. Historians have put together a sketch of Tuynhuys’s history &, it seems, it began as little more than a tool shed. This was converted into a guesthouse in the year Simon van der Stel became Governor in 1679. Tuynhuys was the venue for the opening of the first Cape Parliament by the British Governor in 1854

18. Walk back past the Houses of Parliament where we now get a much better view of the impressive building…

Keep going & exit the gardens beside another Cape Town’s most significant buildings, St George’s Cathedral

19. St George’s Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Cape Town & kept its doors open to people of all races throughout the apartheid era. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, after he led a mass demonstration of 30 000 people to Grand Parade in 1989, coined the phrase ‘rainbow people’ to describe South Africa’s diverse population

The Crypt is now a jazz club, but was also the place where Tutu hid people hunted by the police

20. Cross over the street into St George’s Mall to arrive at a piece of the Berlin Wall

In 1996, while he was still president Nelson Mandela visited Berlin & as a special commemoration of it, the German government sent a big chunk of the wall as a gift. We have to say it is quite impressive

21. Turn right into Longmarket to arrive at some very large & impressive murals of Nelson Mandela & Desmond Tutu

Come back out of Longmarket to arrive back at Greenmarket Square where we started this walk

So that’s an interesting look at parts of Cape Town that not everyone might normally see as most people rush to the top of Table Mountain & Robben Island. But when we visit a city we always look to get underneath its skin & learn something about the real place & the people that live there

South Africa & Cape Town is an amazing place & if ever you visit please do these free tours…

Go Walk!