Cape Town History

Cape Town is historically a mingling place for cultures. The Portuguese caravels of Bartholomeu Dias took anchor off its shores in the late 15th century, and it was in 1652 that the Dutch started the first European settlement in Southern Africa here, in the lands of the indigenous Khoi people, who called Table Mountain “Hoerikwaggo” (“the mountain of the sea”). [more]

The Dutch desired the Cape because of its strategic positioning between Europe and the East. Over time it became an important military base, which the British fought for and won twice before the South African Union was formed in 1910.

Today, Cape Town can credit much of its charming mix of culture and heritage to its rich history. But this legacy is also one of exploitation and oppression, including a time when slavery prevailed.

Modern Cape Town is a city of contrasts: one that boasts a thriving creative economy, premier tourist destination status and incredible natural beauty, juxtaposed with social problems and poverty that are directly related to our colourful past and troubled history.

On one hand, it is the city of Robben Island, the notorious island prison where Nelson Mandela was jailed. On the other, it is the city in which Mandela was reunited with the world on February 11, 1990.


The city is a smorgasbord of cultural experiences. A visit to the close-knit Muslim community in the Bo-Kaap is a must. Wander among the colourful houses and enjoy the aroma of spices and the sound of the call to prayer.

Sample township culture by taking a tour with a local guide. This often includes local food, art, craft and music. The townships are large, densely populated suburbs with high levels of unemployment and poverty. However, a visit is an essential part of your itinerary in order to understand the culture of Cape Town.

Visit the suburb of Blaauwberg on the north coast and Simon’s Town and other villages along the False Bay coast for experiences steeped in military and maritime history.

Most Saturday afternoons are dedicated to playing or watching sport and many Capetonians are sports enthusiasts. Try to catch a game of soccer, cricket or rugby.

When visiting Cape Town and meeting its people, you will fall in love with a city of hope, creative freedom and incredible spirit.

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