Cape Town: Bo Kaap in living colour

Bo Kaap Cape Town

Imagine if you will narrow cobbled streets strung with continuous rows of low-roofed houses, sitting under an imposing mountain backdrop and bright blue skies. Now pop on your imaginary sunnies and paint those houses in varying shades of canary yellow, cobalt blue, perky purple, retina searing pink and acid green. Sounds a little unreal right? Not in the Bo Kaap, where it is a reality so colourful that you could be forgiven for thinking a unicorn threw up on it.

Quirky, charismatic and oh, so colourful, the Bo Kaap is situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the Cape Town city centre and under the shadow of Table Mountain.

Bo Kaap Cape Town

And, as one of the oldest urban residential areas in the city, it is not only steeped in rich history but, for better or worse, saturated with instahappy tourists in search of the perfect selfie.

Bo Kaap Cape Town

The first buildings in Bo Kaap (which means “above the cape” in English) were built in the 1700s to house slaves imported from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia by the Dutch East India Company.

The Eastern slaves, often highly skilled in crafts, were considered too useful to be employed in agriculture and were purchased by Burghers in town, usually at a high price, and were housed in Slave Lodges. Dating back to 1679, the Iziko Slave Lodge, about 600 metres from Wale Street and it’s coloured houses, is the second oldest building in South Africa and served not only as a lodge for hundreds of slaves, but as the first post office, library and supreme court. It’s now a museum and well worth a visit.

Bo Kaap Cape Town

Bo Kaap Spice Store Cape Town

These predominantly Muslim slaves and their descendants became known as Cape Malays and with them brought their own fragrant native spices and dishes, which formed the beginnings of the distinctive cuisine I smell wafting temptingly from the street vendors that still dot the area.

Street Vendor in Bo Kaap Cape Town

Construction on the Auwal Mosque in Dorp Street, one of around ten mosques in Bo Kaap and the oldest in South Africa, began in 1794. Remarkably, the first Imam is said to have written the mosque’s first copies of the Quran from memory.

Boorhaanol Islam Mosque in Bo Kaap Cape Town

The faithful, however, weren’t allowed to recite it or practice their religion in public until after the British seized power of Cape Town a few years later.

In the 1830s the British abolished the slave trade and the emancipated slaves settled in the Bo Kaap.

Bo Kaap Cape Town

The once white houses suddenly burst into every colour imaginable as each year the residents began slapping on coats of high impact paint to brighten their homes for Eid, the religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

Bo Kaap Cape Town

In the mid-twentieth century, the Apartheid government – who made mixing with people from a different racial “category” a crime – declared the Bo Kaap a Muslim-only area and forced people of other religions and ethnicity to relocate, creating a closed but close-knit community.

Bo Kaap Cape Town

The freedom of post-apartheid South Africa brought with it many positives and opened up the world to the Bo Kaap residents, but while it retains much of its character, the area is fast becoming gentrified, meaning many of its original residents, and its history, are sadly being lost to hipster filled cafes and soaring house prices and rents.

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With the pretty coloured houses now a popular tourist attraction, it is important for visitors to remember the rich history that created the backdrop for the snazzy selfie they’re seeking. But they should also consider that the sunshiney bright houses we are photographing are still people’s homes and the occupants are deserving of privacy  – something a few selfie stick wielding tourists (not this selfie phobic author) appeared to have forgotten as they flagrantly trespassed on people’s property the morning I visited.

The Bo Kaap is a must visit in Cape Town that doesn’t cost a dime but neither does showing a little respect.

 

16 Comments on Cape Town: Bo Kaap in living colour

    • BOYEATSWORLD
      November 20, 2016 at 9:33 am (6 months ago)

      IT is fascinating Christine

      Reply
  1. Agent Spitback
    November 9, 2016 at 10:38 am (6 months ago)

    The colour of the houses are stunning! The history is fascinating. It would be well worth a visit.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      November 20, 2016 at 9:34 am (6 months ago)

      It was one of my favourite spots in Cape Town

      Reply
  2. The Thrifty Issue
    November 9, 2016 at 12:21 pm (6 months ago)

    It looks incredible. I find it hard to watch places get overtaken by hipsters. Will have to visit soon.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      November 20, 2016 at 9:35 am (6 months ago)

      It’s definitely worth seeing, the sooner the better.

      Reply
  3. Breharne
    November 9, 2016 at 1:54 pm (6 months ago)

    Wow I had no idea about this! I would love to visit one day and will definitely teach my girls about the slave era.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      November 20, 2016 at 9:35 am (6 months ago)

      I think these are important lessons for kids to learn. Especially in today’s world.

      Reply
  4. Lyn aka The Travelling Lindfields
    November 12, 2016 at 3:42 pm (6 months ago)

    We stayed at the Hilton, Cape Town, earlier this year and had a window which looked directly down onto Bo Kaap. I just loved it.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      November 20, 2016 at 9:36 am (6 months ago)

      That would have been amazing! Such a great location for a hotel

      Reply
  5. Julie
    November 13, 2016 at 7:59 am (6 months ago)

    I don’t know what I expected of Cape Town but it wasn’t such colour. Absolutely wonderful.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      November 20, 2016 at 9:37 am (6 months ago)

      SO many unexpected surprises in CApe Town. It wasn’t at all how I imagined it. So much better

      Reply
  6. Kirralee @ Escape With Kids
    November 13, 2016 at 3:37 pm (6 months ago)

    How glorious! All those colours are so joyful. But you’re so right, there’s no need to get too close to appreciate them.

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      November 20, 2016 at 9:37 am (6 months ago)

      Not at all. They are there for everyone, but we need to be respectful

      Reply
  7. Paula, The Geeky Shopaholic
    November 17, 2016 at 7:39 pm (6 months ago)

    What a beautiful area! I love all those bright colors! And this was interesting to read about, and a good reminder to respect people’s property!

    Reply
    • BOYEATSWORLD
      November 20, 2016 at 9:38 am (6 months ago)

      People do need to remember that people’s property and privacy are more important than a “perfect selfie”

      Reply

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