Were it not for intervention, the historic Heritage Square in the city bowl of central Cape Town would have fallen foul of so-called modern development.
The proposed scheme would have had the demolition of the entire Bree/Shortmarket area but thanks to The Cape Town Heritage Trust, it was renovated and restored.
Back in the 18th century you could go to market, so to speak, to visit, say, your baker here. There were also tobacconists, a number of retailers, a boarding house and even an undertaker.
The houses were built with clay or rubble and cemented with lime mortar. The roofs were thatched and the walls painted with whitewash. As folks became more affluent, so did the dwellings – larger and more ornate. It was then that the front gable – unique to Cape architecture – made its appearance. The Cape Dutch architecture-style of the buildings is an amalgam of medieval Dutch and German, with hints of French and Indonesian influences. The basic style was always the same though.
If the heritage folks hadn’t interfered, there would be very little evidence of this unique form of architecture on this square today.
In the late 1980s the independent Cape Town Heritage Trust was established by the Cape Town City Council, primarily to see to the preservation of the architectural history of the city. Were it not for the City Council that donated the Bree/Shortmarket area to the Trust in 1996, properties in the area would be no more and demolition would have resulted in a history-defying parking garage and ring road system.
The restoration of the area was thus over to the Trust. With a contribution of 80% of the cost by the City Council, the Trust worked side by side with Mr Sam Montsi of property development company, Montsi Properties to restore the buildings.
Today owners and operators that hug the square - retail shops, restaurants and bars - have honoured the structure and history of the buildings. This includes the 1780s-built Cape Heritage Hotel, which boasts South Africa’s oldest grapevine (around 1781), which is still in full flourish in the courtyard.
Now up-to-the-minute style superimposes itself on the rich heritage of the square.
The Malay Quarter
Not far from Heritage Square, beyond Buitengracht Street is the visually-distinct, so-called Malay Quarter in the Bo-Kaap area of central Cape Town. It is one of the oldest parts of the city and equally steeped in history. Descendants that hailed from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and other parts of Africa were slaves who started to settle here, against the slopes of Signal Hill from around the late 1800s. Translated from Afrikaans, Bo-Kaap means ‘above the Cape’.
Today this area is much-visited for its quaint cobbled streets and buildings, painted in a delicious array of pastel colours.
The Bo-Kaap Museum is the oldest building in the area and showcases Islamic heritage and culture.
The area was declared a National Monument in 1966.
These cultures are known for their splendid cuisines. Typically known as Cape Malay food, it is no longer unique to those cultures but has been with alacrity integrated in other South African dishes.
The mouthwatering, fragrant Malay cuisine has both locals and visitors from around the world visiting.
7 August Street, Cape Town
+27 21 422 5446
Tuesday to Saturday lunch 12.30pm to 4pm. Dinner 6.30 till late. Sunday lunch 12.30pm to 4pm. Closed Mondays.
DINE IN THE HERITAGE SQUARE AREA
THE SHORTMARKET CLUB
Historic, glamorous private club-inspired décor and cuisine courtesy multi award-winning chef Luke Dale-Roberts and partners.
88 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town+27 21 4472874
Breakfast Fridays and Saturday 8am to 10.30amLunch Monday to Saturday 12.30pm to 2.30pmDinner Monday to Saturday 7pm to 10.30pm
Go in a group to celebrate their rich African colours, tastes and Ubuntu.
108 Shortmarket Street, Heritage Square, Cape Town +27 21 422 0221
Monday to Saturday 6p to 11pm. Closed Sundays
Virtually an institution, the regional produce boasts a modern menu that impresses. Note the Table Mountain Stone and old brick in the walls that date back to the 18th century.
101 Hout Street, Cape Town+27 21 424 2626
Lunch Monday to Friday 12pm to 2.30pmDinner Monday to Saturday 7pm to 10.30pm
Artisanal meat specialists offer a nose-to-tail menu with French infusions in this comfy bistro.
17 Bree Street, Cape Town+27 21 418 1299
Lunch Tuesday to Friday 12pm to 3pmDinner Tuesday to Saturday 6pm to 11pm
If you’re waiting for a table upstairs at The Chefs Warehouse (which doesn’t take bookings) this is the place. It is as the name implies, it’s preferable to arrive before the crowds for nibbles and to sip cocktails and other drinks.
92 Bree Street, Cape Town+27 21 422 0128
Lunch Monday to Saturday 12pm to 2.30pmDinner Monday to Friday 4.30pm to 8pm