‘Above the Cape’, this vibrant neighbourhood is the beating heart of Cape Town’s Muslim community. The cobbled streets and cheek-by-jowl houses hug the slope of Signal Hill, rising above the CBD in a colourful swathe of brightly painted Georgian facades.
You may hear Bo-Kaap referred to as the ‘Malay Quarter’. This is because many of its inhabitants are descended from slaves brought to the Cape in the 16th and 17th centuries who – despite hailing from India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other parts of Africa – became known as ‘Cape Malays’.
What to see
The firing of the Noon Day Gun is one of the Cape’s oldest living traditions. Two 18-pounder, muzzle-loading cannons on Signal Hill just behind the Bo-Kaap are fired at noon Monday to Saturday (with the exception of public holidays). Signalling the time since 1806, these grand old ladies are the oldest guns still in daily use around the world, and are serviced by the South African Navy.
The Auwal Mosque on Dorp Street is, according to oral history, the oldest mosque in South Africa and integral to the traditions of Cape Muslims. There are also three kramats – shrines to Muslim spiritual leaders – in Bo-Kaap, and a further two on Signal Hill.
For a peek into the history of this community of freed slaves, visit the Bo-Kaap Museum in Wale Street, a 19th century Muslim residence transformed into a tribute to the area’s past. If you’d prefer a more interactive introduction to the neighbourhood, join one of Shireen Nackerdien’s walking tours (call +27 21 422 1554 to book).
Travellers who like to get to grips with a culture through its food shouldn’t miss out on a Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour. In the comfort of her home, Zainle Misbach will teach you the secrets of mixing masala, folding samoosas, frying a roti to perfection and making the perfect traditional Cape Malay curry.
Stop at Atlas Trading Company, a family-run emporium of local and exotic spices that has been in business since 1946.