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Table Mountain National Park

People & Conservation

Cultural Heritage

The Cape Peninsula has a rich social history to compliment its natural wonders ranging from the Stone Age to more modern times such as the two World Wars.

As custodians of the 25 000 hectare Table Mountain National Park that incorporates many of these historically significant sites, Park management is also tasked with protecting this valuable cultural heritage.

To this end the TMNP has developed a Heritage Resource Management Plan (HRMP) which outlines all the sites of cultural significance as well as identifies those most urgently demanding protection. Download the HRMP

A glance at our Cultural History

Traces of early stone age tools give evidence that early hunter gatherers lived on the Cape Peninsula around 600 000 years ago.

Later inhabitants – the San (hunter-gatherers) - harvested food from the seashore and evidence of their presence are the middens (prehistoric refuse heaps) that are found in a number of caves in the park and reveal a great deal about their lifestyle.

About 2000 years ago the Khoi Khoi 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.

Other evidence of these early inhabitants is the rock art in Peer's Cave in the central section of the Park.

Early European Explorers

The first in a steady stream of Europeans to visit the Cape Peninsula was the explorer Bartholomew Dias who set sail from Portugal in 1487 to find a sea route to the riches of the East. And in 1488 they had unwittingly rounded the Cape of Good Hope.

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

Settlers & Slaves

In 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 Good Hope 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.

Tragically, European occupation of the Cape resulted in the virtual extermination of the Khoenkhoen tribes through slaughter and the introduction of European disease such as small pox against which these peaceful herders had no defense.

These European settlers have left a rich architectural history scattered around the Park such as the Kings Block House on Devil's Peak - an early fort built by the British in 1790 to guard against attack from the south west – and in the deep south an old farmstead, dating back to 1780, has been lovingly restored and is now the TMNP's Buffelsfontein Visitor Centre.

Other sites of interest include the lighthouse at Cape Point, the dams on top of Table Mountain, relics from both World Wars, Maclears Beacon (the highest point in the Park) and of course the numerous shipwrecks that litter the coastline.

However some of the most fascinating heritage sites have deep spiritual significance to the Muslim population of Cape Town. When slavery was rampant in the Cape slaves were imported from Malaysia and the east. Among these were prominent holy men whose Kramats are found in the Park such as those at Oudekraal and Signal Hill.

Probably the most well known heritage site in the Park is Rhodes Estate. Cecil John Rhodes was a powerful and controversial character who could be called the father of conservation on the Cape Peninsula having acquired land spanning the eastern slopes of Table Mountain from Devils Peak to Constantia Nek. On his death this land was bequeathed to the people of Cape Town and protected from development. This land, with the exception of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, is now managed by the TMNP.

For more information on the rich cultural history of Cape Town and the Peninsula please refer to the following museums:

  • Iziko Museums of Cape Town: www.museums.org.za/iziko or call: +27 (0) 21 481 3800
  • The Slave Lodge on Adderley Street – call +27 (0) 21 460 8242
  • District Six Museum – call +27 (0) 21 461 8754
  • Bo-Kaap Museum – call +27 (0) 21 481 3939

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