History of Cape Town

Cape Town began its life as a supply station for ships of the Dutch East India Company, sailing between Holland and the East Indies to trade spices. It was founded in 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck, and you can find out lots more about its fascinating history from the videos, photos and maps below.

The Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck arrives in Table Bay, April 1652,
to set up the Cape Town settlement & garden

The Spice Trade shipping routes of the
Dutch East India Company
Spices from the East Indies
 Cloves  Nutmeg  Cinnamon  Pepper

The First Garden in South Africa
Watch this short video to learn about the settlement of Cape Town
and the reason why it was built

Watch from 16:23 to 19:52 (3 minute excerpt)

The Dutch East India Company, from its base in Amsterdam, brought valuable spices from South East Asia to Europe by sea.

It took their ships 8 months to reach their base in the Far East at Batavia
(now Jakarta, capital of Indonesia).

A Dutch ship in Table Bay, 1762

The sailors needed fresh food and water during the long journey - so they needed to find a place on the way to Batavia that could provide these.

It was also important that any local people were friendly, and did not mind trading their meat and vegetables with the sailors.

Dutch ships started stopping at Table Bay, near the Cape of Good Hope, for food and water from the 1590s. The Cape was about half-way to Batavia.

The Founding of Cape Town: Timeline

400 Khoi herdsmen move into Southern Africa from further north (now Botswana). They keep cattle, moving with the herds for fresh pasture, and live off seafood around Table Bay.
Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias is the first modern European to round the Cape of Good Hope.
1497 The famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sets foot in South Africa on his way to India - the first European to sail there.
 1503 Portuguese seamen under Antonio de Saldanha are the first Europeans to climb Table Mountain (they are part of a fleet on its way to India). They also fight with the local Khoi people.
 1510 Many Portuguese are killed in a battle with the Khoi.
Despite the occasional fighting, ships from Portugal, and later Holland and Britain, often call in at Table Bay for fresh water and meat on the way to the Spice Islands of the Far East.
 1647 A Dutch ship, the Nieuwe Harleem, is wrecked in Table Bay.
The survivors live there for a year, growing food and getting on well with the local Khoi people, until they are rescued by ships returning to Holland.
The sailors suggest to the Dutch East India Company that a supply station could be set up in Table Bay.
 1652 Jan van Riebeeck arrives in Table Bay to set up the supply station for the Dutch East India Company (for ships travelling to & from Batavia and the Far East).
The Company Garden is laid out, and a fort built (of clay & wood).

1666 The Castle of Good Hope is begun - it is finished in 1679.
1671 The Cape Colony is properly begun, when land is bought from the Khoi.

Map of early Cape Town

Notice the star-shaped Castle of Good Hope
(bottom left) and the Company Garden
(green rectangles, top middle).

The castle defended the settlement.
The garden grew food for sailors passing on the long voyage to the Spice Islands.

The Company Garden

This is where the fruit and vegetables were grown for the Dutch sailors.

Click the photo above to download a
leaflet about the Company Garden

The Castle of Good Hope

This is the oldest building in South Africa.

Click the photo above to watch a video about the castle