Friday, February 09, 2007

Cape Town History

The Middle Stone Age inhabitants, who lived here between 200,000 to 40,000 years ago, also left evidence of their life on the Peninsula. There are about six sites where artefacts, including scrapers and fragments of worked stone, dating from this period have been found and more than a 100 sites where signs of Late Stone Age habitation - from about 21,000 years ago - is evident. The San (Bushmen) hunter-gatherers relied on the seashore for most of their food and are known colloquially as the strandlopers or beachwalkers. Prehistoric refuse heaps or middens, created by the strandlopers are found in a number of caves in the park and reveal a great deal about their lifestyle.

About 2000 years ago the Khoikhoi migrated from the north, displacing the San, bringing with them their herds of cattle and sheep. It was the Khoikhoi who were the dominant tribe when the Europeans sailed into Table Bay. In 1487 the explorer Bartolomeu Dias set sail from Portugal to find a sea route to the riches of the East. With a fleet of three ships he sailed down the west coast of Africa, but before reaching the Cape he was caught in a storm and driven from the shore. When the storm abated they sailed east believing they would again sight the west coast.
Thanks to a fresh water stream coming from Table Mountain, The Dutch established a settlement in 1652 to supply the ships of the Dutch East India company between Europe and the East. The Khoisan tribes were already in the area. The British followed the Dutch and they both brought slaves from around the world. Here is a city with many cultures and many celebrations, part African, part European and part something new altogether.

Follow in the footsteps of our ancestors as you stroll along the oak-lined streets of Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in the country. Our colourful history comes to life in the splendidly restored Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian buildings in each town. Monuments such as the Huguenot Memorial and Afrikaans Language Monument and the many outstanding museums provide a fascinating glimpse into the past. The Cape Peninsula has a long and eventful history. Prehistoric people first left their mark here more than 600,000 years ago and traces of the tools of these Early Stone Age hunter-gatherers have been found in a wind-scoured depression near the Cape of Good Hope.

After sailing for several days and not sighting land they turned north and made landfall at the Gouritz river mouth on the east coast on February 3, 1488. They had unwittingly rounded the Cape of Good Hope - the first Europeans on record to do so. On his return he landed at Hout Bay. Some historians claim it was Dias who named the Cape Cabo Tormentosa or "Cape of Storms" alluding to the tempest he had endured, but changed it to Cabo de Boa Esperanca, the "Cape of Good Hope", to please the king of Portugal, as rounding the Cape provided hope of a sea route to the East.

It was a full 10 years later that Vasco da Gama set sail from Portugal, rounded the Cape and reached India, making him the first person to open the sea route from Europe to the East and proving that rounding the Cape of Good Hope did indeed provide hope of reaching the riches of the East. Commemorative crosses have been erected to honour Dias and Da Gama at Bordjiesrif and near Platboom, respectively, in the Cape of Good Hope.

Ever since, the Cape of Good Hope has been an important landmark for mariners and Table Bay at the foot of the majestic Table Mountain became, and still is, a haven where seafarers could seek shelter and take aboard fresh supplies of water and meat bartered from the Khoikhoi.

On April 6, 1652, the Dutchman, Jan van Riebeeck, stepped ashore at Table Bay tasked with establishing a refreshment station for the Dutch East India Company and their ships that sailed the route to the Dutch East Indies. A fort (the castle) and gardens were established at the foot of Table Mountain. A viticulture industry was initiated and land was granted to settlers to grow crops. And so began European settlement at the Cape.

Attempts at protecting and preserving the Cape's beautiful flora and fauna can be traced back to these Dutch settlers. The first portions of land are proclaimed on May 29 1998 as a contractual National park. Table Mountain is a sandstone plateau rising up above the Cape Flats. The top is approximately 3km wide, and at its heighest point, Maclears Beacon, rises to 1085m.

Over the centuries it has become one of South Africa's most famous landmarks. The steep cliffs and rocky outcrops of the mountain play home to a number of plants and animals. The mountain is home to approximatly 1470 species of plants; more than the entire British Isles!

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