If you’re planning a visit to Cape Town anytime soon and love beautiful bright colours, character and spectacular views, you should add the Bo-Kaap to your itinerary.
This historic neighbourhood with its rainbow-coloured houses and steep cobblestoned streets is a firm favourite among photographers and travellers-in-the-know and extremely Instagram-worthy. So, I thought it was about time that I shared some of my own pics and told you a bit more about this special place.
The Bo-Kaap (meaning ‘Upper Cape’ or ‘Above Cape Town’) is situated along the slopes of Signal Hill and within walking distance of the Cape Town city centre. It’s a steep walk up the hill but totally worth it!
This area is also known as the Cape Malay Quarter, since it became the home of slaves who were imported from the East Indies (mainly Malaysia and Indonesia) from 1658 onwards to work in the newly-established Cape Colony. The slaves included highly-skilled craftsmen, artisans, scholars and religious leaders, and the majority of them were of Muslim faith. The Cape’s first mosque (and South Africa’s oldest!), Auwal Mosque, was built in the Bo-Kaap in 1794 and is still in use today.
Photo of Auwal Mosque by Valentin Remeuz, via Instagram
The Bo-Kaap has an interesting history, much of which you can learn about at the Bo-Kaap Museum which is located in a beautiful old house from the 1760s, or on one of the many organised walking tours in the area.
Photo of Bo-Kaap Museum by N P-Art, via Instagram
A moment in time: Street art depicting a chapter from the Bo-Kaap’s history.
During South Africa’s dark Apartheid years, the Bo-Kaap was proclaimed as an area exclusively for the Cape Muslim population, and people of other religions or skin colour were forced to leave. While this helped to preserve the Cape Muslim culture and heritage (despite the cruelty to others), it was also an anomaly at the time, as the Apartheid government’s general policy was to move people of colour outside the city centres.
Since the advent of democracy in South Africa in the 1990s, interest in the Bo-Kaap’s incredible location and character has grown dramatically and the area has become hot property.
Beautiful, colourful Bo-Kaap with a glimpse of Lion’s Head in the background.
As more and more outsiders buy up the properties, the unique character of the area is starting to change – something I find rather sad. I also suspect that property interest rates would have increased dramatically over the years, forcing house owners to sell their family properties (the majority of them being working class).
While capitalism, unfortunately, always goes hand-in-hand with democracy, one can only hope that the City of Cape Town will recognise the importance of preserving this incredible piece of heritage in the heart of the city, before it’s too late!
For me, one of the greatest legacies of the Cape Malay population is the incredible spices that they brought from the East and introduced to the Cape cooking so many centuries ago: cloves, cardamom, mustard, cinnamon, coriander, dhanya (fresh coriander leaves), aniseed, bay leaves, ginger, saffron and more.
A famous shop in the Bo-Kaap is Atlas Trading Company where you can buy many of these spices. Just walking past the shop and breathing in the wonderfully intoxicating aromas of the spices is a recipe for instant happiness!
I absolutely love Cape Malay cooking – our cuisine in Cape Town would have been so boring without it! My favourite dishes include: Cape Malay curry, bobotie, rotis, samoosas, koesisters and milk tart.
If you’re feeling peckish, treat yourself to some delicious samoosas or koesisters at the nearby Rose Corner Café in Wale Street.
Photo of delicious koesisters by Hannerie Visser, via Instagram
How to reach the Bo-Kaap on foot
Walk up from Wale Street towards Signal hill. It is a steep uphill walk but shouldn’t take you long. (Wale Street is the street where you will find St George’s Cathedral and the entrance to the Company’s Garden.)
The most beautiful and photogenic street in the Bo-Kaap is Chiappini Street (which is to your right, just after you passed the Bo-Kaap Museum and Atlas Trading Company).
It is a small area to explore but rich with photo opportunities, so snap away at to your heart’s content! And, should you visit the area in the late afternoon, enjoy listening to the muezzin’s call to prayer …
Have you every visited the Bo-Kaap in Cape Town? What did you enjoy most?
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