The Bo-Kaap in Cape Town can be found on the hillside of Signal Hill. The area is also known as the Malay Quarter where you will find cobbled streets, steep inclines and colourful buildings. The Bo-Kaap is a place of historical significance for the Cape Malay culture, and is one of the oldest areas in Cape Town. The area is traditionally a multicultural neighbourhood with a mostly Muslim population. Bo-Kaap is also home to the oldest mosque in the southern hemisphere, the Auwal Mosque built in 1793.
The Bo-Kaap region has its beginnings in the late 18th century, when Jan de Waal bought a block of land at the foot of Signal Hill, between Dorp and Wale streets. He continued to extend his holding and built small rental houses on this land. Around this time slaves were imported from Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of Africa. Most of the new residents were Muslim and several mosques were built in the area. During the 1830’s, slavery in the area ended and many of the people who were brought over against their will, started to settle in the Bo-Kaap area. The brightly coloured facades of the Bo-Kaap houses are attributed to an expression of freedom by the new homeowners.
The Bo-Kaap area has over the years preserved some of its historical essence. When wandering the streets in the Bo-Kaap you will notice the distinctive single storey houses with flat roofs, painted in a number of bright colours including blue, orange, pink and green. In between the houses you will also find a number of mosques with their distinctive and beautiful minarets, still operating today. Preservation of the area began in 1943 when 15 houses were restored by a group of prominent citizens, with the support of the Historical Monuments Commission. In 1966 a portion of the area was designated as a National Monument. From 1971 the City Council began restoring houses and streetscapes, with 48 units completed by 1975. Property in the Bo-Kaap has become very sought after, mostly as a result of Cape Town’s economic development and expansion. It is popular not only for its location, but also for its picturesque cobble-streets and unique architecture.
When in the Bo-Kaap, do not miss the opportunity to enjoy a traditional Cape Malay meal at one of the local restaurants where spices are heady and recipes date back centuries. For an authentic experience, many women in the area invite you into their homes for cooking lessons. Learn to make fragrantly aromatic curries, rotis, and how to fold samoosas before sitting down with the family to enjoy the meal. Iconic local business abound in the Bo-Kaap including the various restaurants, decor showrooms and hip coffee shops which display beautiful art. All forming part of the eclectic mix that makes up this exotic melting pot.
The Bo-Kaap Museum is the oldest building in the area, dating back to the 1760’s. The museum highlights the cultural contribution made by early Muslim settlers, many of whom were skilled tailors, shoemakers, carpenters and builders. The house depicts the life of a typical Malay family and features 19th century furnishings such as Cape Regency-style chairs, a fine Cape drop-leaf dining table and a bridal chamber decorated to match the bride’s dress.
Other Cities in the Cape Town City Bowl: Cape Town City Centre, Century City, De Waterkant, Foreshore, Gardens, Higgovale, Oranjezicht, Salt River, Tamboerskloof, University Estate, Vredehoek, Woodstock