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History and Culture of the Cape

 

Description

Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa and — many believe — the most culturally aware. (Ok, those many are all Capetonians, but they probably do have something there.)

Cape Town's rich colonial history has endowed the city with some distinctive old buildings in the distinctive Cape-Dutch style with its whitewashed walls, ornate gables and thatched roofs. Some of the best examples of these are to be found on the many wineries, the most easily accessible of which is Groot Constantia in Cape Town's southern suburbs. An easy stroll along the Historical Mile between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay will take you past Posthuys, the oldest building in South Africa.

A host of museums on a huge range of the usual subjects like natural history, cultural history and just plain ordinary history complement the smaller ones like the District Six Museum, a doll museum and a police museum. And, of course, a visit to the Robben Island Museum in the V&A Waterfront, followed by a ferry trip and a tour of the island itself, is almost de rigueur. You'll get to see Nelson Mandela's old cell but you can't sleep in it. You can't even get your photo taken in it, as it's locked to keep people out.

But there is more to culture than the stuff found in museums. Culture is about how people live — how they organise their lives. So you can choose from a range of cultural tours. Most involve a drive out to one or more of the townships of Nyanga, Langa, Gugulethu, Crossroads or Khayelitsha, where you can see how local people live, visit historic sites mostly pertaining to the struggle against apartheid, shop in the open air markets, enjoy a drink or a meal at a shebeen (township tavern) and, if you like, even consult a traditional healer or sangoma.

Another interesting place to visit is the Bo-Kaap, which is often included on general Cape Town, cultural tours or can be visited on a tour of its own. The Bo-Kaap is home to the oldest existing community in South Africa that has not been subject to forced removals. Previously called the "Malay Quarter", this area housed the many slaves brought out, mainly from Java, in the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Their attractive, brightly coloured, flat-roofed houses, decorative mosques and the sound of the muezzin calling over the city streets have remained relatively undisturbed for all this time. The major threat facing this attractive area is now not forced removals, but gentrification, as image-conscious yuppies move into and renovate the lovely old buildings, taking advantage of the sea views and proximity to the city centre. The Bo-Kaap Museum documents the history of the area, and a meal in one of the local restaurants is a culinary delight as well as a cultural experience.

Art galleries range from the huge and well-endowed National Art Gallery to some very funky little indie spots that host fabulous and/or bizarre fringe exhibitions. Musical offerings range from symphony orchestras and classic jazz to some short-lived experimental performers so, to even begin to know where to start, you'll need to buy a local paper.

There's loads to do, see, experience, eat, drink and enjoy. Have fun.

In and Around

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*Distances are shown as the crow flies and not necessarily the actual travelling distance.

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