The Bo-Kaap is definitely the most colorful part of Cape Town and a great place to explore. I think I wouldnt mind living in one of these brightly coloured houses either. This part of the city, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city center was formerly known as the Malay Quarter. They have a lovely view over the city especially at night.
The colourful Bo-Kaap with its romantic cobble stoned streets is actually a multicultural area, very rich in history. Many of the residents are descendants of slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and various African countries, who were imported to the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch during the 16th and 17th centuries. The slaves were known as “Cape Malays” thus is Bo-Kaap still known today as the Cape Malay Quarter.
I followed Wale Street uphill from the Company Gardens until I got to the brightly painted Georgian terraces where wandering down the narrow cobbled streets is the best way to experience the area. I didnt realize that it was all up-hill to get there and the cobbled streets arent flat either. I learned the hard way that it would probably be a good idea to wear sneekers next time as my sandels caught in the cobbles and I tripped, nearly falling down on my face.
These steep streets are all lined with colorful traditional houses, painted in vibrant colors. Not only do they look cheerful but the people who live here are also very friendly. As I walked around with my camera people were more than willing to talk to me and to tell me a bit about the area and the history. I was surprised to find out that the owners often change the colours of their brightly painted houses and what is today a bright pink might be a pale blue house next year.
It surprised me that most of the people spoke Afrikaans until one of the ladies told me that the Afrikaans language was developed here in the Bo Kaap as a language for the slaves, as well as their masters, to be able to communicate effectively. Today Afrikaans is actually widely used in the Western Cape and the surrounding areas.
Many of the inhabitants of Bo-Kaap are descendants of the people from Indonesia (Batavia), Sri Lanka, India and Malaysia thus many were Mulims and others were converted to Islam by the Cape Muslim community. No wonder Afrikaans has so many words in common with Malaysian and other random languages. Even in Russian we have a couple of similar words which helped me a lot while living there.
As a result of Cape Town’s economic development and expansion, and after the demise of forced racial segregation under apartheid, property in the Bo-Kaap has become very sought after. This is not only because of its location but also for its picturesque cobble-streets and unique architecture. While the majority of Bo-Kaap’s residents are still of Cape Malay origin, the housing boom in the past fifteen years has seen an influx of foreigners buying up the beautiful, quaint, historical homes of Bo-Kaap.
But despite the apparent “gentrification” the residents say that they are still a very close knit community and not only help each other out but also work together to keep their neighbourhood safe. According to the residents the Bo-Kaap is one of the safest areas to live in Cape Town because they all look out for each other and they even have a neighbourhood watch to keep things orderly.