Cape Town (Kaapstad in Afrikaans and Ikapa in Xhosa), is a modern city with a fascinating history. Known as the Mother City because it was the first to emerge in South Africa, the city owes its multicultural personality to a diverse range of people and events, from the indigenous Khoi and San peoples to local African tribes, from the European explorers to slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar and Mozambique, and from apartheid to democratic freedoms. A meeting point of many cultures, the result is a cosmopolitan city with a contemporary and eclectic vibe. So dynamic is the Cape Town of today, in 2014 it was awarded World Design Capital and named the best place in the world to visit by both The New York Times and The Telegraph.
Known history begins with rock art that dates back 27,000 years, traced to the Khoisan people who lived in sight of Table Mountain—itself one of the oldest mountains on earth at eight million years old. The area’s first written recordings don’t appear until the 1400s, when Portuguese explorers Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama chronicled their sightings of the Cape of Good Hope. By the late 16th century French, Danish, Dutch and English ships made Table Bay a regular stop en route to the Indies, with Sir Francis Drake proclaiming in 1580, “This cape is the most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.”
It was the establishment of the Dutch East India Company by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 that eventually led to the arrival of slaves to support
labor needs in the growing settlement. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Netherlands and Britain fought for control of South Africa, with Britain ultimately prevailing to form the multicultural Union of South Africa (later the Republic of South Africa) in 1910, with Cape Town as its capital.
Running on a platform of apartheid, the National Party came into power in the mid-1900s prompting several decades of political and humanitarian strife. Cape Town was home to many leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, and in one of the most famous moments marking the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela made his first public speech from the balcony of Cape Town City Hall just hours after being released from prison.
Today, with 11 official languages, Cape Town proudly embraces its multicultural diversity with everything from cutting-edge street art to world-class cuisine, and from the brightly coloured facades of the Bo-Kaap to the Afro-chic décor of trendy cafés and bars.