The first European to anchor at Table Bay and climb Table Mountain was the Portuguese navigator António de Saldanha. He encountered a few hundred indigenous inhabitants, a Khoe people whose economy was based on herding, hunting, and gathering. After Saldanha’s visit, European ships continued to put in at Table Bay to take on freshwater, meat, and other provisions. Survivors of the Dutch vessel Haerlem, wrecked in Table Bay in 1647, brought back such glowing reports of the region that the directors of the Dutch East India Company ordered that a station supply ship rounding the Cape be established there. On April 7, 1652, the company’s representative, Jan van Riebeeck, stepped ashore to select sites for a fort and a vegetable garden. In 1657 the company began to release men from its employees so that they could become free burghers (citizens) and farmers, and in 1658 the company began to import slaves. Inland from Table Mountain, a second company farm was established at Newlands, and vines were planted on the slopes of Wynberg (“Wine Mountain”).
Van Riebeeck and his senior officials constituted a council of policy and court of justice. Free burghers were invited to join the court when matters concerning burghers were at issue, and burgher-councilors eventually took responsibility for services such as fire protection, road maintenance, and the preservation of order. The colony began to spread beyond the Cape Peninsula, and the council of policy came to rely increasingly on the burgher-councilors for fact-finding and for advice on town affairs.
The importation of slaves, the introduction of political exiles from the Dutch East Indies, and marriage and cohabitation with indigenous Khoekhoe (whom the Dutch called Hottentots) increased the population, but at the beginning of the 18th century the town, known as De Kaap (“The Cape”), still consisted of only 200 houses. Its growth was accelerated by rising international tensions and a growing appreciation of the strategic importance of the Cape. During the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), which involved the major European powers, many French and British ships called at the port, which from 1773 onward was referred to by British visitors as “Cape Town” (Afrikaans: Kaapstad). During the American Revolution, which exacerbated tensions between rival European powers, a British fleet sought in 1781 to occupy the Cape, which directors of the English East India Company described as “the Gibraltar of India.” A French fleet, however, reached the Cape first and established a garrison there to help the Dutch defend it. The French presence brought prosperity and gaiety to Cape Town and initiated a surge of building.
Make your way along Strand Street to the Castle of Good Hope (the oldest building in South Africa still in use) – you may wish to park and take a guided tour of the castle and its art collection. Resume down Darling Street past the 1905 City Hall. At the end of the road turn left into Adderley Street. You will see the Great Church on your left (first built in 1700) and the old Slave Lodge on the corner. Pass the Cathedral and turn left into Queen Victoria Street and park. From here explore the Company Garden, walking up to the oldest museum in the country, the South African Museum. It showcases the natural history of South Africa and early human communities of the sub-continent. It is noted particularly for its whale gallery and collection of Bushman rock art, including the important Linton Panel. This is the only museum in South Africa with an adjoining planetarium.