Getting To Know The Bo Kaap

The Bo Kaap (Afrikaans for above Cape Town) is situated above the city of Cape Town on the slopes of Signal Hill. Too many visitors it’s a whistle stop visit to take photographs of the rows of brightly coloured homes for their Instagram feed before rushing off to the next best thing on their Cape Town city tour.

The Bo Kaap however has a very interesting place in South Africa’s history. It’s worth taking the time to explore the area. A good place to start exploring the Bo Kaap from is the museum at 71 Wale Street. The museum is one of the oldest buildings in the area.

If you are interested in really getting a feel for the area its good idea to hire a local guide to show you around the Bo Kaap. A very popular option is to explore and then join one of the traditional home based cooking classes that are offered in the area. It creates a great balance between seeing the area and interaction with the local residents in their own homes.

Why Is The Bo Kaap A National Heritage Sight?

The Bo Kaap with its close proximity to Cape Town has become a magnet for large developers. The residents living in the area have been fighting the ever increasing gentrification of the area. The Bo Kaap with its vibrant culture and history needed to be preserved for future generations.

In March 2019 the City Of Cape Town declared the Bo Kaap a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone. This included almost 600 private homes in the Bo Kaap. In May 2019, 19 sites within the Bo Kaap where given National Heritage Status.

The idea of the Heritage Zone was intended to encourage the residents and building owners to conserve the Bo-Kaap heritage. Owners are encouraged to retain and rehabilitate the existing residential buildings and promote social and cultural traditions in the area.

Your personal safety in the Bo Kaap

Personal safety is always on a travellers mind when visiting any new area and the Bo Kaap has had a number of negative reviews on various review platforms. Complaints from visitors include numerous instances of people being mugged in the area, aggressive parking attendants and locals that are hostile to visitors. Since the arrival of COVID the area has become very quiet and as I walked around I saw hardly anyone out at all and experienced no problems. 

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Why Are The Houses Brightly Painted?

The Bo Kaap dates back to around 1760 when rental homes where build in the area and leased to slaves. The homes were all white in colour. When slavery was finally abolished in 1834 the homes could finally be purchased. The owners who were no longer renting could now paint them any colour they liked and so the tradition of brightly coloured homes began. Any colour but white!

Today the most popular streets to see these brightly coloured Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian style homes are Wale and Chiappini streets. Watch out for the traffic as you explore this area and don’t step in front of cars in your pursuit of the perfect photograph. One very important thing to bear in mind, not everyone is happy being photographed. If you want to photograph people, ask their permission first.

What Is The Malay Quarter?

The vast majority of people who settled in the Bo Kaap were slaves, political prisoners or exiles who traced their origins back to countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and other parts of East Africa. This group of people where often referred to as Cape Malays after the language they spoke, Malay. This language was widely spoken in the Indonesian Archipelago and the language was widely spoken at the Cape during and prior to the nineteenth century.

During the apartheid years the Bo Kaap was referred to as the Malay Quarter. The term has negative conotations for many people and the residents mostly seem to refer to the area as Bo Kaap

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Cape Malay Cuisine

The style of cuisine that is associated with this area is interestingly still referred to as Cape Malay cooking. If you are walking in the area you will often smell the spices that are used in the traditional Malay style cuisine.

As you explore the Bo Kaap be on the lookout for local delights like Samosas and Koe’sisters sold at most corner cafe’s. If you have chosen to eat at one of the local homes, be on the lookout for stews such as tomato bredie, breyani, denningvleis and bobotie that are firm favourites, spicy curries and sosaties (lamb or mutton kebabs)

Check out the Biesmiellah restaurant at the top of Wale street to explore the local cuisine. A more personal way to explore the local cuisine is to book lunch and an interactive cooking lesson with a local family. Book It Now.

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