Considered to be one of the global hot spots, Cape Town offers the foreign traveller good value for money and, according to Frommers, "is regularly heralded as one of the most beautiful (cities) on earth" due to its unique scenery. Whether you are into sophistication or slumming it, searching for adventure or tranquility, Cape Town is sure to be a pleasant surprise. Pairing the natural beauty with a vibey and friendly culture, there are a variety of delights ranging from award winning French-style wines to Malay cuisine, fine art and architecture, a wealth of historical sights and much more on offer.
"A most stately thing, and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth." - Sir Francis Drake (16th century)
Although Phoenician mariners circumnavigated Africa as long ago as 2600 B.C., it was only on 6 April 1652 that three Dutch vessels commanded by Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape. They set about erecting a wooden fort and planting gardens to provide fresh produce to the trading ships of the Dutch East India Company. This was the start of the Company Gardens which are still in existence and presently house both the S.A. National Gallery and South African Museum as well as a planetarium. The humble tool shed of the gardens evolved into Tuynhuys, which is now the presidential residence.
The original fort was replaced by the Castle of Good Hope which was completed in 1679 and is the oldest building in South Africa. Initially located on the beach, the Castle is now more centrally located due to the reclaiming of the sea and development of the Foreshore area since 1943. One of the main streets, Strand Street, marks the original coastline and is also where the Gold of Africa Museum is located.
The settlers promptly named the indigenous pastoralists "Hottentots", which later evolved into a derogatory Afrikaans term for non-white persons. The people who subsisted on shell fishing were named "Strandlopers" and the groups who hunted were called "Bushmen". The Cape Coloured community, which defines the unique local culture, are the descendants of these initial inhabitants of the Colony and the slaves who were imported mainly from Madagascar and Indonesia. By 1754 there were about 5500 Europeans in the Cape and as many, if not slightly more, slaves. Slaves were emancipated in 1834 and thus the Bo-Kaap, or 'upper city', was established by the Muslim community after being freed from slavery. On 21 December 1834 the St George's Church held its first service at the site consecrated by the Bishop of Calcutta in 1827 and on 22 August 1901 the St. George's Cathedral came into being when its foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Cornwall and York, who later was crowned George V. The political climate gave rise to the “Groot Trek” in 1836, when thousands of Dutch families headed inland and by 1840 the Cape population stood at about 20 000, of which half were Europeans.
1899 saw the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, partially due to the gold rush in the Witwatersrand. One of the key players was Cecil John Rhodes, to whom the Rhodes Memorial had been erected in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. A statue of Rhodes pointing inland is also found in the Company Gardens. In 1910 Cape Town was declared the legislative capital of the newly-formed Union of South Africa and the Houses of Parliament have been in use ever since. 1948 saw the election of the National Party and the subsequent start of “apartheid", which was the implementation of various laws relating to racial segregation. This included the Group Areas Development Act of 1955 which led to the resettlement of more than 60,000 residents from District Six. Memorabilia from this era can be viewed at the District Six Museum.
By 1962 thousands of black political prisoners were being sent to Robben Island, including Nelson Mandela in 1964. A State of Emergency was declared on 12 June 1986 and eventually culminated in the release of Nelson Mandela and others in 1990 when all political organizations were unbanned. Mandela, or Madiba as he is fondly called, held his freedom speech from the balcony of the City Hall, which currently houses the central library and symphonic orchestra and was built from limestone imported from Bath, England in 1905. The neo-classical façade makes this building noteworthy, but it is just one of many architectural delights which await visitors to Cape Town, where numerous old buildings have been lovingly restored to their former glory and now house contemporary clubs and restaurants.
A highlight on the Cape social calendar is the annual J&B Met which occurs each January, showcases top horseracing events and is followed by a large after-party. During the first week of January, Cape Town also experiences the Minstrel Carnival, an ongoing series of song and dance performances by members of the local community to herald in the New Year.
Late November to early April sees a range of summer sunset concerts at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, with many visitors enjoying the sunset, music and picnics on the extended lawns. Another popular musical event is the Symphony of Fire fireworks at the Waterfront, as is the International Jazz Festival which occurs in March. Also of interest is the Cape Town World Cinema Festival which is held at various venues each November. Cyclists would enjoy the Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour which covers a distance of more than 100 km, starting in Cape Town and routing through the Southern Suburbs, along the False Bay coastline and back via the very scenic Chapman's Peak Drive.
The infrastructure, numerous outdoor activities and its rich cultural heritage has led to Cape Town being described as a "must-see before I die" city. Major developments are already underway in preparation for the 2010 World Cup and a new ultra-luxurious hotel is being built at the V&A Waterfront with canals which would connect to Century City, effectively creating a mini-Venice. Whether you're an eco-tourist, culture-vulture or simply looking for adventure and a great vacation, Cape Town is sure to exceed your expectations.