Western Cape DestinationsBo Kaap, City Bowl
The Bo-Kaap, which lies on the fringes of Cape Town’s city centre, is full of character and colourful houses (pink, orange, lime green and turquoise), many of which are national monuments and date back to the 1750s, with cobbled streets that rise up to meet the lower slopes of Signal Hill on which the suburb lies.
A lively suburb, the Bo-Kaap’s inhabitants are a blend of cultures that descend from slaves imported by the Dutch in the 1700s. They came from Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Indonesian Archipelago. Not only were these people incorrectly branded as ‘Cape Malays’ but the Bo-Kaap became known, and remains so today, as the Malay Quarter.
There is a strong Muslim influence - more than 90% of the people who live here are Muslim - as many of the early slaves were Muslim scholars and religious leaders, as well as craftsmen and artisans. This is a throwback from the apartheid era when the Bo-Kaap was declared an exclusively Cape Muslim residential area, and people of other religions and ethnicity were forced to leave.
Homes here are characterised by Dutch or British influence. The older period homes, most of which are semi-detached, lie along lower Bo-Kaap, Dorp Street and would have been the homes of emancipated slaves, who settled on these slopes within easy walking distance of work in the city. Guided tours through the suburb are particularly interesting and take in local kramats (shrines) and Mosques.
Cape Malay food has earned a reputation combining fruit, spices, vegetables and meat and can be sampled in a number of traditional restaurants in the area. The Bo-Kaap museum, which presently shows the lifestyle of a typical 19th century Muslim family, is worth a visit, and the CBD is moments away.