Top Historical Sites in Cape Town, Western Cape

ahThe first Europeans to discover Cape Town were the Portuguese, led by Bartholomeu Dias in 1488, followed by the Dutch in 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck was sent to establish a halfway station for travelling ships. Since then, Cape Town is steeped full of history from historical sites, figures and even famous dogs. Here are a few of our favourites.

The legendary tale of Just Nuisance

Just Nuisance left his paw print in history with a legendary tale that made him Cape Town’s most famous dog. Born on a Thursday on 1 April 1937 in Rondebosch and sold to Benjamin Chaney who moved to Simon’s Town to run the United Service Institute (USI). As fast as he grew in size, the Great Dane quickly became popular with everyone who worked at the institute who would feed him all sorts of snacks and take him for walks. He soon began to follow them to the South African Navy Base and would sun himself on top of the gang plank. At almost 2 metres (6.6 ft) tall when standing on his hind legs, he became quite an obstacle for those trying to board and he affectionately became known as Nuisance. Just Nuisance began to follow the sailors onto the trains and take trips of up to 22 miles (35 km), the disgruntled train officials would put him off the trains but this would not deter him as he would simply board the next train or walk to another station. Even though besotted travellers would offer to pay his fare, the South African Railways company eventually threatened an ultimatum that he would be put down if he continued to board the trains. The South African Navy responded to this threat by enlisting him as an official Navy officer (the first dog ever to be enlisted), which meant he was officially entitled to free rail travel. For the next few years he served with honour as a faithful travel companion to the sailors and a morale booster for the troops serving in World War 2. In 1944, at the age of 7, Just Nuisance was involved in a serious car accident and was euthanised after his condition deteriorated drastically. He was buried with full naval honours on top of the hill at Klawer. Visitors to Simon’s Town can visit his grave or admire the statue erected in his honour at Jubilee Square.

Robben Island

Robben Island is a tiny island in Table Bay, Cape Town located 6.9km west of Bloubergstrand. The name is Dutch for “seal island” but it is famous, not for its seals, but for it’s dark history. At different times in the past, it was a leper colony, defense training base and a mental hospital but it is most famous as a prison where former South African president Nelson Mandela was banished during the Apartheid struggle. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela spent 18 of his 27 year incarceration on the prison island. The prison is also known as the ‘university of the struggle’ as many of the most famous anti-apartheid activists sharpened their political thinking and formed lifelong relationships while they were behind bars. They emerged to lead South Africa into democracy and changed the course of South African history. Robben Island has become a World Heritage Site and visitors can catch a short boat trip to the island and visit the cell in which Nelson Mandela was kept. It will give you a unique glimpse into the great sacrifice the anti-apartheid leaders made in order to make South Africa a better place for all.

The Castle of Good Hope

The oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa is the Castle of Good Hope and was built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company. It was not only built as a replenishment station for their ships journeying from Europe to the East but as tensions rose between Britain and Netherlands amid rumours of war, Zacharias Wagenaer was instructed to build a pentagonal fortress out of stone. The fortress housed a bakery, church, living quarters, various workshops, shops and during the Second Boer War part of the castle was also used as a prison. In 1936, the Castle of Good Hope was declared a national monument, the first building in South Africa, and extensive restorations took place to preserve the building. Guided tours of the Castle are conducted daily and you can visit the workshops, the living quarters, the cellars and dungeons. Key ceremonies are performed, replicating the ceremonial unlocking of the Castle and is followed by the firing of the signal cannon.

Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap is a photographers dream with all its colourful houses and cobble stoned streets. Situated above the city centre, it offers a unique trip into the Malay history of the early Muslim settlers as it is the historical centre of the Cape Malay culture. The Bo-Kaap museum is the oldest house in the area that is still in its original form and dates back to the 1660s. A visit to the museum will highlight the cultural contribution made by early Muslim settlers in South Africa and the little village on the slopes of Signal Hill offers a unique cultural experience with its many restaurants serving traditional Cape Malay cuisine and unique shops. You will also be able to hear the Noon Day Gun which is Cape Town’s oldest lasting tradition going back to 1806. The cannon has historically been fired every day at noon since.

West Coast Fossil Park

A short drive from Cape Town will transport you back in time to the West Coast Fossil Park which has a rich fossil deposit dating back over 5 million years to the Milocene / early Pilocene era. Located near Langebaan, the fossil sites have exceptionally well-preserved fossil fauna and includes many extinct animals that lived in the riverine forest and wooded savanna when the sea levels were much higher. You can see the fossils of bears, sabre-tooth cats, short-necked giraffes, three-toed horses and many other exotic animals which inhabited the west coast area at the time. Activities at the park includes fun, educational activities as well as coffee shops, picnic sites and mountain bike trails.