Whether you’re coming to Cape Town, thinking about visiting or have visited already, you can never know too much about our beautiful home. Here are some interesting facts about the Mother City.
- Table Mountain’s flat top was formed about 300 million years ago. The mountain was at sea level during an ice age and ice sheets flattened the layers of sandstone to form the famous landmark.
- Hand axes made by Homo Erectus, dating back 750,000 years, have been found near Cape Town.
- The San and the Khoikhoi are the first recorded peoples of the Cape. The San were hunter-gatherers while the Khoikhoi were mainly herders. In later years, the Khoisan generation called the area Hoerikwaggo, meaning “mountain that rises from the sea”.
- Cape Town is situated on an underground river called Camissa, meaning “place of sweet waters”.
- In the 1500s, Portuguese sailors encountered storms as they sailed around the Cape Peninsula and dubbed it “the Bay of Storms”.
- Jan Van Riebeeck and Dutch East India Company settlers landed at the Cape on 6 April 1652. They had been sent to the Cape to establish a supply station for ships travelling to the Dutch East Indies.
- Asian immigration to South Africa started in 1654 when slaves from Malaysia were brought to the Cape, in turn encouraging the spread of the Islamic faith in Cape Town culture.
- There are more than 20 kramats (holy shrines of Islam) in the Cape Peninsula, and an additional four in the city’s outer lying areas.
- Cape Town has its own unique mix of indigenous music called Ghoema, closely associated with the Cape Malay culture having its origins linked to the musical culture of the Malay slaves.
- Cape Town celebrates Tweede Nuwe Jaar, meaning “Second New Year”, in the form of a parade of singing and dancing Kaapse Klopse minstrels. This 200-year-old tradition has its origins in the Cape Malay slaves who celebrated the ringing in of a New Year on the only day they were offered leave from work each year – 2 January.
- Britain seized Cape Town from the Dutch in 1795. In 1803 it was returned to The Netherlands and, by 1806, was back in the hands of the British. In the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814, Cape Town was conceded to Britain, becoming the capital of the Cape Colony.
- Cape Town has the oldest wine industry outside Europe and the Mediterranean, dating back to 2 February 1659 when Jan van Riebeeck produced the first wine recorded in South Africa.
- On 31 May 1836 Darwin’s HMS Beagle arrived at Simon’s Bay, near Cape Town, on its way home to South America. Darwin trailed through the Cape for 18 days while doing research here.
- The original Table Mountain Cableway opened for business on 4 October 1929, transporting millions of visitors, as well as the current Queen of England, Elizabeth ll, to its smooth summit.
- The oldest living tradition in Cape Town is the firing of the Noon Day Gun at Lion Battery on Signal Hill. The Noon Day cannons are also two of the oldest in the world still in daily use.
- Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first ever human heart transplant in 1967 in Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital.
- District Six is an inner-city residential area made famous by the forced removal of more than 60,000 inhabitants during the 1970s. The District Six Museum was established in 1994.
- Cape Town’s City Hall was built in 1905. On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela made his first public speech after his release from Robben Island, on the balcony of the City Hall.
Source: Cape Tourism
Groote Schuur, Dutch for “big barn”, is an estate on the Rondebosch side of Newlands. In fact, Newlands Avenue used to run right through the property and when next you drive up Klipper Road, look out for the “Newlands Avenue” road sign which is still displayed at the entrance of Groote Schuur.
In 1657, the estate spanned 65 hectares and was owned by the Dutch East India Company. The house, which was originally a granary for the farm, was constructed in the seventeenth century. Cecil John Rhodes took out a lease on the house in 1891, then bought it two years later for £60,000.
The top storey of the Cape Dutch building on the slopes of Devil’s Peak was destroyed by fire in 1896. The traditional thatched roof was replaced by sturdier Welsh slates.
Rhodes commissioned the architect Sir Herbert Baker to renovate the house, and although he gave Baker no strict instructions as to what he wanted, he abhorred any mechanically-made items (such as hinges for windows) in the house and had them replaced with brass and bronze items that would be cast.
Baker remodelled the front of the house, added a long stoep in the back and constructed a new wing. The wing contained a billiard room with master bedroom above that boasted a large bay window overlooking Devil’s Peak. He also added a grand hall with a massive fireplace.
The home’s hybrid of ornate gables, colonnaded verandas, barley-sugar chimneys, whitewashed walls and warm teak woodwork give it a regal appearance. The original and only bathroom during Rhodes’ time has a massive bathtub carved from a single piece of Paarl rock granite. No-one is sure how it was brought all the way to Rondebosch or how they lifted it upstairs
Baker also played a significant role in the furnishing of the house. After initially filling it with modern furniture from London, Rhodes, influenced by Baker, began a shift to more traditional Cape furniture. This would mark the beginning of his collection of colonial furnishings.
Rhodes also commissioned agents to search for furniture, books, porcelain, silver and glassware from the Cape. Many of these items had to be re-imported from Holland and today the house and its interior remain almost exactly as they were then.
The rooms in the home have a comfortable domesticity, enlivened by evidence of Rhodes’ eclectic tastes. The wooden comer posts on one of the staircases are carved in the form of the enigmatic soapstone eagles that were found at the Zimbabwe Ruins; Delft tiles decorate the downstairs skirtings; and several of the fireplaces have Zimbabwe soapstone surrounds.
Among the most interesting items in the home are souvenirs from Rhodes’ travels, including an exquisitely inlaid Moorish Egyptian travelling writing table, an old Cape stinkwood armoire with secret drawers and an elephant-shaped drinking cup.
The gardens of the house were as Rhodes demanded – “masses of colour”. He was allergic to pollen so the plants were carefully chosen and the house was surrounded by a mixture of hydrangeas, cannas and his favourite flower, the starry blue Plumbago.
Rhodes was always a generous host while at Groote Schuur. He used the residence as much as a business and political headquarters as a home. His life at the time was one of dinner parties and meetings on the stoep, where he would be joined by as many as 50 people at a single gathering.
Cecil John Rhodes died young, at age 48, and bequeathed Groot Schuur to the nation along with vast tracts of mountainside that stretched all the way to Constantia Nek. Much of it has been spared development and is now an important conservation area, including Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Part of the estate became the upper campus of the University of Cape Town.
From 1910 to 1984, it was the official Cape residence of the Prime Ministers of South Africa and continued as a residence of PW Botha and FW De Klerk. However, Botha never resided there, opting rather to live in the neighbouring Genadendal building (formerly called Westbrooke).
The building was the site for the signing of the historic “Groote Schuur Minute” between Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress and then-president De Klerk, on 4 May 1990. The document was a commitment between the two parties to the resolution of the existing climate of violence and intimidation as well as a commitment to stability and to a peaceful process of negotiations.
Under Mandela, Genadendal became the official Cape Town residence of the South African President. Rhodes’ Groote Schuur home is now a museum.
- You can visit by appointment or on the occasional open day. A 2½-hour tour of the mansion is well worth the entrance fee of R150. Email [email protected] or call her on 083 414 7961