Cape Town is South Africa’s oldest city and has a very rich heritage. Various sites around the city tell fascinating stories about our history and different cultures, religions and ideas, starting with the earliest inhabitants who led a pastoral existence on the site of modern-day Cape Town, through to the early settler era, slavery, battles, colonialism, the apartheid years and ultimately democracy.
Many Capetonians are descended from slaves and the city’s slave history is documented in buildings and museums of the central city. The Slave Lodge is now a museum dedicated to remembering this sombre part of Cape history. Nearby, in Spin Street, is a dedication to the slaves who were bought and sold at a slave market on what is now Church Square. Many of the beautiful colonial buildings in the city were built by slaves before the abolition of slavery in 1834.
In 2003 a burial ground dating from the 18th and 19th century was uncovered in the course of construction work. The remains of thousands of people, including slaves and working people, were recovered and placed at the Prestwich Memorial which pays homage to those who lost their lives centuries ago
The residents of District Six were forcibly removed from their homes in this vibrant, mixed community when it was declared a white group area in 1966. The museum documents the history of the area, much of which was later torn down and bulldozed. Artefacts and testimonials tell the story of a much-loved neighbourhood whose residents were moved to the Cape Flats.
Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27 years in prison on Robben Island along with hundreds of other political prisoners. Today the island is a museum which is reached via a short ferry ride. Visitors receive a tour of the island hosted by former political prisoners, providing vivid insights into South Africa’s apartheid past.
The City Hall was built in 1905 and faces the historic military parade ground, now used by traders and motorists for parking. After his release from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela first addressed the nation and the world from the City Hall balcony. Concerts and other events are frequently hosted at the City Hall which will soon house an exhibition on the life of Nelson Mandela
The square, candy-striped red and white lighthouse was first lit in 1824 to alert ships sailing into Table Bay. It was the first solid lighthouse built on the South African coastline and is still in operation, making it the oldest working lighthouse in the country and light keepers are still trained here.
Parliament is at the centre of South Africa’s democracy and includes a precinct with the National Assembly, the National Council of Provinces and offices and meeting rooms for Members of Parliament and the Cabinet. Take a public tour, attend a sitting of the house, or observe one of Parliament’s many committee meetings. Bring your passport or identity document to gain entry.
This is one of the oldest cathedrals in southern Africa and has played a prominent role in Cape Town’s religious, social and political history. The crypt beneath the cathedral houses an exhibition on the peace marches of the late 1980s that were a political turning point for the country. Across the road, in St George’s Mall, is a piece of the Berlin Wall, which fell almost at the same time as former president FW de Klerk announced the freeing of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of political parties
Situated in the historic area that became home to many Muslims and freed slaves after the abolition of slavery, the Bo-Kaap Museum showcases local Islamic culture and heritage. Surrounded by colourful houses, steep cobbled streets, the muezzin’s calls to prayer, and children traditionally dressed for Madrassa, visiting Bo-Kaap is a unique Cape experience
The Iziko Maritime Centre provides an overview of shipping in Cape Town and the role it has played in the lives of South Africans from before the establishment of permanent colonial settlements.
The 200-year old national museum houses some of South Africa’s most valuable historical artefacts. The Planetarium, which forms part of the South African Museum, runs programmes for children and adults. It now offers an advanced digital visualisation experience as part of its regular shows.
The Company’s Garden is next door to the South African Parliament and was established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 to provide food for Dutch ships. The historic food garden has been recreated based on paintings from the time, and the large park-like gardens are home to many established trees labelled with information about their age and origin.
Imizamo Yethu is a township in Hout Bay. Walking tours are available for visitors interested in exploring the township’s diverse culture and lifestyle
Leave the bus at the stop on Victoria Road and walk up a stairway that leads into the mountainous area that holds some of Cape Town’s Kramats – holy Muslim shrines. A walk of 99 steps will take you to a beautiful white and green shrine surrounded by rocks and trees. This Kramat is the tomb of Sheikh Noorul Mubeen, and several steps on is another Kramat, believed to be the tomb of his wife, or one of his followers.
The history of the country’s Jewish community is set out at the museum which also includes South Africa’s oldest synagogue in the museum complex and the Holocaust Centre. The Holocaust Centre includes sections on the pseudo-science of ‘race’, the roots of anti-Semitism and the institutionalised racism of apartheid. Photographs and a documentary tell the story of survivors of the Holocaust who made their home in Cape Town.
Built between 1666 and 1679, the Castle is the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa. It houses a museum and several changing exhibitions. There are guided historical tours daily as well as the firing of the signal cannon and a key ceremony performed by ceremonial guards.
The Auwal Masjid is the first and oldest mosque in South Africa. It was built in 1794 during the first British occupation of the Cape of Good Hope. The mosque was built on land belonging to the freed slave Coridon van Ceylon. Imam Abdullah Kadi Abdus Salaam, also known as Tuan Guru, was the first Imam at this Dorp Street Masjid
The Hout Bay Museum is situated in Andrews Road and focuses on the history of Hout Bay, its people, forestry, mining, and fishing industry. The museum’s collection and displays explore the cultural and natural history of the area. Artefacts include old photographs of Hout Bay and the history of the Khoi and San here, land protests and how the township of Imizamo Yethu was established. Items from shipwrecks are also on display
This is the oldest house museum in South Africa and became a museum in 1914 after the death of the last owners, the sisters Marie and Margaritha Koopmans-de Wet. Koopmans-de Wet House includes some of the best antique furniture in the country as well as a priceless collection of ceramics
This complex of centuries old buildings was declared a national monument in 1967. It includes nine historical buildings – The Parsonage, The Church Building, The Organ, The Church Bell, The Cook House, Old Shop, The Long House, The Mill and The School.