Monday, April 21, 2008

The Mother City

Cape Town is called the "Mother City" because the first Dutch settlers chose this part of South Africa as a halfway station on the trade route from Europe to the East. Of course it didn't remain only that, and instead became the place, from which the European settlers started to colonise the rest of South Africa.

This is a view of Table Mountain, flanked (left in photo) by Devil's Peak, as seen from Melkbosstrand across Table Bay. The inner city of Cape town lies at the foot of Table Mountain. Various hiking trails lead to the summit (1086m at its highest point) or one can "drive up" in a modern, rotating cable car - installed in 1997, although the cable-way is operational since Oct 1929. This mountain is probably 6 times older than the Himalayas, and consists of sedimentary rock, which was formed 600 million years ago UNDER the surface of the sea! So the Khoi (Hottentot) name, Hoerikwagga, the Mountain of the Sea, makes even more sense.

Another view of Table mountain and Devil's Peak as seen from the Waterfront - a shopping centre "installed" in the renovated warehouses of the old harbour. Also, the famous "tablecloth" is visibly starting to "deck the table". The first harbour in Cape Town was built in 1860, and Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's 2nd son, tipped the rock - hence the "full" name, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

The historic Clock Tower (at the Waterfront) was built in 1882 and is now a National Monument. The tower was used until 1904 as the Port Captain's Centre of Operations. Underneath the tower is a "well-like" shaft, which is linked to the sea by a tide-gauge mechanism. To this day, it indicates the exact state of tides to vessels entering or leaving the docks.

Trivia: similar to the Leaning Tower of Pisa (Italy), the Clock Tower began to slightly lean over to one side through the years - just over 50mm. If you look closely, you can see that on this photo (right).

Cape Town's City Hall, built in 1905 according to the Italian Renaissance style, today houses the city library. The 61m high tower is a copy of Big Ben in London (UK) and houses 39 bells. After being released as a political prisoner, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela held his very first (world-wide televised) speech to the South African nation from the balcony here on 11 February 1990.

Do you know what Mr Mandela's birth name, Rolihlahla, means? In his book, Long Walk to Freedom, he explains: In Xhosa, it literally means "pulling a branch of a tree", but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be "troublemaker". Throughout his life, he certainly had to weather many storms!

The foundation stone for the Houses of Parliament was laid by Govenor Sir Henry in 1875 (completed in 1885). Cape Town is known as the legislative capital, because it's home to South Africa's parliament (> Pretoria = the administrative capital - seat of government). The beautiful parliament building has a central dome and Corinthian porticos and pavillions.

Trivia: every brick of this building is embossed with "Made in England".

De Tuynhuys was built in 1700 as the Dutch East India Company's guest house, to accommodate important visitors to the Cape at the time. Tuynhuys is situated next to the parliament buildings and today is the office of the State President. The semicircular gable (centre-top in photo) was designed by Anton Anreith and represents 2 cherubs, Mercury and Neptune, holding a folded cloth on which the monogram VOC reminds one of the Dutch East India Company, which was responsible for setting up the halfway station at the foot of Table mountain. From the steps of Tuynhuys, FW de Klerk announced on 18 March 1992 that South Africa had "closed the book on Apartheid".

The Bo Kaap (often incorrectly named the Cape Malay quarters) - of historical and cultural interest - is situated on the slopes of Signal Hill. The now brightly coloured houses date from the 19th century, and most of the residents today still are descendants of Muslim slaves, brought to the Cape by the Dutch until the end of the 19th century (the slave trade at the Cape was "completely" abolished by the British in 1834). Along the narrow and often still cobbled streets of the Bo Kaap, many small but original mosques are in evidence, of which the Auwal is the oldest mosque built in South Africa.

Trivia: Muslim scholars (and NOT descendants of the Dutch settlers) produced the first written texts in Afrikaans, which eventually was declared an official language in South Africa in 1925.

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