Follow this walk to encounter some key figures from South Africa’s colonial history whose cast-metal likenesses grace the downtown City Bowl area. Start outside the southeastern corner of the Cape Town International Convention Centre at the head of Heerengracht Street. In the middle of the nearby rotary stands (1) Bartolomeu Dias (Heerengracht Street and Coen Steytler Avenue), the Portuguese mariner who was the first recorded European to round the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. Heading down Heerengracht Street toward Cape Town’s train station, you’ll pass the twin statues of (2) Jan van Riebeeck and his wife, Maria (Heerengracht Street and Hans Strijdom Avenue); Riebeeck led the Dutch East India Company expedition, which set up shop on the Cape in 1652. This is said to be the spot where Riebeeck first stepped ashore, so it gives you a good idea of how much land has been reclaimed from the bay since.
The squat 1960s-designed railway station is nothing much to look at, but opposite note the beautifully restored (3) Colosseum building (Adderley and Riebeeck Streets), one of many striking art deco–style structures in the city center. Keep heading up Adderley Street, a continuation of Heerengracht, crossing over Strand Street, to reach (4) Trafalgar Place (Adderley Street and Trafalgar Place)—an alley festooned with flower sellers between an ugly modern shopping center and the handsome Edwardian-era Standard Bank. At the end of the alley is the (5) General Post Office (Darling and Parliament Streets); stop inside to admire painted murals of old Cape Town. Exit the Post Office on Darling Street; in front of you on the corner of Parliament Street is (6) Mutual Heights (14 Darling Street), the pinnacle of Cape Town’s art deco building boom; a detailed stone frieze runs around the building’s facade and on the Parliament Street side are separate carvings depicting different African races.
Farther along Parliament Street is the polished jet-black-and-chrome exterior of (7) Mullers Opticians (corner of Longmarket and Parliament Streets). The pleasant café (8) Speakers Corner (3 Church Square, Parliament Street)—a favorite with politicos from the nearby Parliament building—fronts Church Square, named after the (9) Groote Kerk (Church Square, Parliament Street), the august mother church of the Dutch Reformed Church. In the square’s center stands the statue of (10) Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, a newspaper editor who was instrumental in helping draft the South African constitution in 1909.
From Church Square, turn right on Bureau Street, which runs along one side of the (11) Slave Lodge (corner of Wale and Adderley Streets; www.iziko.org.za/slavelodge), dating back to 1679 and now a museum. Outside, next to the Government Avenue entrance to the Company’s Gardens, (12) Jan Smuts (corner of Wale and Adderley Streets) has been cast sitting on a rock. It’s a faithful rendition of the Boer War general and prime minister, but not nearly as interesting as the more abstract representation of Smuts that lies outside the excellent (13) S.A. National Gallery (Government Avenue, Gardens; www.iziko.org.za/sang). Also within the verdant Gardens is a statue of perhaps Cape Town’s most famous adopted son: (14) Cecil Rhodes. The son of an English vicar, Rhodes was the great southern African empire builder; part of his considerable fortunes were bequeathed to creating the Rhodes scholarships that have sent recipients, such as President Bill Clinton, to Oxford University.
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