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The Evolution of the Mother City

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The Evolution of the Mother City

Take a look at what our beautiful city used to look like in the 1800s and early 1900s compared to how it looks now

We all know that Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa, having been officially founded in 1652 following the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck. Since then, a lot has happened and the urban and natural environment has changed drastically. We won’t bore you with facts and a historical breakdown about our beloved city’s past. Instead, we’ll show you.

We’ve selected nine vintage photographs, taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s from around Cape Town and the Southern Suburbs, and visited the exact locations from which they were first shot. Most of the areas today would be completely unrecognisable to our great-grandparents, but some buildings still stand – an incredible testament to the engineering methods used by the early pioneers. For example the City Hall, Newlands Train Station and Old Townhouse have remained largely unchanged over the past 100-or-more years.

So spend some time picking out the details of each photograph, and maybe pay a visit to the actual sites in your spare moments. There is a mountain of history just waiting to be discovered in our city.

Bathers at Three Anchor Bay (circa 1905). Notice the clear view of Lion's Head.

Three Anchor Bay as it looks today. Lion’s Head is less prominent because of the high-rise buildings, and the beach has been replaced by a raised promenade. 

 

Table Bay from Signal Hill (circa 1900). Notice the short pier in the centre of the photograph – that is now Adderley Street. The Castle of Good Hope was located on the beach, demonstrating the dramatic shift in the city’s coastline.

The city has actually extended into the sea with the invention of modern building techniques, making Table Bay slightly smaller than it was 115 years ago. 

 

A fire brigade show at the Grand Parade. Mayor Frederick Smith (black suit) attended the demonstration (1909).

The Grand Parade has become smaller over the years. Nowadays it is home to a flea market and the occasional concert. The City Hall remains unchanged.

 

The Old Townhouse in Greenmarket Square (circa 1899). Notice Table Mountain in the background.

The Old Townhouse has not changed much in the last 116 years, but the surrounding landscape certainly has. Table Mountain is no longer visible from Greenmarket Square.

 

Adderley Street with Standard Bank, Cartwright’s Corner and The Groote Kerk (circa 1890). Notice the taxi parking bays in the centre of the street.

The Standard Bank building and The Groote Kerk have not changed much, but the adjacent buildings have. Trees now line the centre of Adderley Street, but the centre-street taxi bays still exist today.

 

Longmarket Street descending from the Lion’s Rump (Signal Hill) (circa 1900). Notice the chimneys on the left, and the horizontal line on Devil’s Peak.

One of the chimneys is still standing, and the brown line on Devil’s Peak is still there. The height of the modern buildings is emphasised when you look at the vintage photo.

 

Rhodes Memorial under construction (1905 – 1908).

This memorial hasn’t changed since its completion in 1912, but it is interesting to note the massive trees behind it, which now block the view of Devil’s Peak.

 

The Newlands train station (circa 1900). Pay attention to the elevated walk-way.

The building hasn’t changed much over the past 115-odd years. The first thing we can see is that the elevated walk-way is gone (replaced by an underground walk-way).  Trains in the 1900s were steam-powered and so the electric cables running above the tracks were not needed.

 

Cattle grazing in “The Pasturage” (now Rondebosch Common) (circa 1900).

The Rondebosch Common has become a lot smaller over the past 115 years, but the remaining piece of land is still undeveloped. The lack of livestock has meant that the shrubs and grass can grow tall now.

With the changes that have taken place over the last century, we can only imagine what Cape Town will look like in 100 years time. One thing is for certain; change is the only constant. 

Feature by Joshua Oates
Old photographs: HiltonT@Flickr
New photographs: Joshua Oates
All images are subject to copyright

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