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Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap occupies an interesting position in the city, both historically and in present-day Cape Town. It’s also one of the most vibrant and distinct neighbourhoods in South Africa, and is perfectly set up for exploration on foot.
Bo-Kaap is located on the slopes of Signal Hill and rises up above the Cape Town city centre. The suburb dates back to the 1760s, and was formally called the Malay Quarter – it was used by the government at the time to house slaves brought to the Cape from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Today, there’s a palpable sense of history in the streets of this mountainside suburb. Cobbled roads lead past corner stores and houses, many of which have been handed down from generation to generation and painted in an array of bright colours. Although today these Georgian and Cape Dutch style houses serve as fodder for the tourists seeking striking Instagram photographs, it’s a commonly held assertion that their colours are actually rooted in an expression of freedom following the fall of slavery.
The call to prayer still rings out at prescribed times throughout the day from mosques dotted throughout the neighbourhood. This includes Auwal Mosque, the first Muslim mosque in South Africa. Although gentrification and large developments are threatening to undermine the important cultural heritage of the Bo-Kaap and force out families who’ve lived here for generations, at the moment it remains a fascinating place to spend an afternoon respectfully observing one of the country’s warmest and most vibrant neighbourhoods.