Historical Buildings in Cape Town

Published: 28th April 2010
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Explore the remarkable historic buildings in Cape Town next time you visit the scenic city.

As South Africa's oldest city, Cape Town features a host of beautiful old buildings, some of which have been in existence for hundreds of years. The architectural impact of city's early colonisers - the French, Dutch and British - is strongly felt throughout the city, as is the influence of the Malay people who were brought to the Cape as slaves.

Many of these historic buildings are still in use today, most of them serving as museums, monuments and galleries. They showcase Cape Town's intriguing and oft-chequered past, serving as fascinating relics of bygone eras. Some even still exist as homes, such as in the Bo-Kaap area, which has been the chief enclave of many Malay people since they were brought to the Cape by the Europeans.

Start your journey through the annals of Cape Town's history in the vibrant suburb of Bo-Kaap. This is city's oldest suburb, and certainly its most colourful. Then visit some of the Cape's most famous monuments, including castles, churches, dungeons and prisons, as well as the eclectic Long Street - one of Cape Town's oldest streets, yet still one of its hippest.

From Bo-Kaap to Betram House: Cape Town's most historic buildings
Bo-Kaap, set against the slopes of Signal Hill, is home to a collection of tightly-packed cluster homes, brightly coloured and often featuring original Dutch and British architecture of the 1700s. The oldest building in the suburb is located at 71 Wale Street. This, today, is the Bo-Kaap Museum, and has been restored to reflect an authentic 19th century Muslim home: During apartheid, Bo-Kaap was classified as a Muslim region, and the suburb is still a primarily Muslim community.

From Bo-Kaap, travel into the centre of town - just a few minutes' walk from the cobbled streets of the old suburb - to discover a wealth of historic architecture. Most notable is the Castle of Good Hope, which was originally built under the auspices of Jan van Riebeeck during the latter 17th century, when the first settlers arrived in the Cape.

According to historians, construction on the castle - which was in fact a defensive fort - began just days after the Dutch settlers arrived in the Cape. Celebrated among sailors as the "Tavern of the Seas", it served as a replenishment station for the Dutch East India Company, as well as a fort to protect the company's lucrative advantage along the spice route. It's an awe-inspiring structure that, in the early years, housed governors and dignitaries, served as a centre for the military and a place of incarceration for prisoners.

Today, the Castle remains a centre for the military, but its eerie dungeons contain only shadows, and its majestic wings, the impressive William Fehr art collection. It's a monument that is at once fascinating and chilling, and it's well worth a visit.

The centre of town is also the site of South Africa's oldest church, Groote Kerk, located within walking distance of the Castle of Good Hope. Taking pride of place in Adderley Street, this impressive cathedral was constructed in the 1800s, and more than 200 people - including several governors - are buried beneath its soapstone floors. The architecture is impressive, as is the church organ which, with almost 6,000 pipes, is the biggest in the southern hemisphere.

The Old Town House, built in the Dutch-Rococo style of the 18th century, is situated near to Groote Kerk, in the historic Greenmarket Square. The Old Town House originally served as the city hall, and today houses a world-class collection of Nederlandish art, as well as temporary exhibitions which are of interest to locals and visitors alike. The historic building, which was donated by Sir Max Michaelis in 1914, also features a beautiful tea garden, which is best enjoyed during the summer months.

Cape Town's culturally rich city centre
Apart from these historic buildings, Cape Town's city centre features many other old buildings that reflect the diverse influences of Cape culture and architecture. Traverse vibrant Long Street to discover Victorian buildings of the 19th century, beautifully restored and housing antique shops, clothing boutiques, book shops, pavements cafes and backpackers' lodges. Also be sure to visit the museums and galleries located in the city's "museum mile", alongside the magnificent Company Gardens in Adderley Street.

About the Author:
Taj Cape Town is a 5-star hotel located in the historic city centre, among many of the Cape Town's top tourist attractions. Book your accommodation at this luxury Cape Town hotel, and enjoy easy access to many of the city's leading historical attractions.

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