Mountains are a fundamental part in our city’s identity, and play a huge role in Capetonians day to day lives. But how did the mountains in the Mother City get their names?
Starting with a relatively obvious one, Table Mountain got its name because of its resemblance to a table. The man who popularised the connection was a Portuguese explorer, Antonio de Saldanha.
In 1503, he was the first white man to hike up Table Mountain and named it Taboa do Cabo meaning “table of the Cape”. Almost 100 years later, Dutch explorer Joris van Spilbergen separately named the bay at the foot of the mountain Tafel Baay.
The mountain then became known as Tafelberg (Table Mountain) to the Dutch, who were the first Europeans to settle in the Cape in 1652.
Signal Hill forms part of Table Mountain and is known for being the spot the noon gun is fired from every day at 12pm. Now a popular spot to watch the sunset or take in the city views, Signal Hill used to announce the arrival of visitors.
A well-known stop along sea journeys, Cape Town used to see many ships dock here. With no modern communication to signal the arrival of visitors, the guns on Signal Hill were used to inform residents of a new ship’s arrival.
“But it doesn’t even look like a lion’s head!” is something you’ll hear often upon telling people the name of the mountain. The name “Lyons Head” has been around since the peak was named Leowen Kop (Lions Head) in the 17th century by the Dutch.
There are a few theories as to why this was the chosen name. Firstly, the shape, which not many people believe correlates. Secondly, the name may refer to the roaring sound of the wind in the area.
The third idea is that the name comes from the mountain being formerly inhabited by a great pride of lions.
Whatever the reason, it’s certainly a distinctive name that grabs one’s attention.
The name for Devil’s Peak, originally called Windberg, comes from a local legend about a retired Dutch pirate, Van Hunks, who was living in Cape Town. His wife would not permit him to smoke his pipe inside their house, and sent him to the mountain when he wanted to smoke.
One day, while Van Hunks sat and puffed, a man joined him. The two men began an argument about who could smoke the most, resulting in a smoking competition.
They smoked for several days on the mountain, until a huge cloud enveloped the men and the peak they were sitting on. When the smoke disappeared, so did the men.
The stranger was actually the Devil in disguise, and in losing the smoking competition, Van Hunks had lost his soul to the Devil.
When the South East wind blows and clouds begin to form over Devil’s Peak, the tale tells us that Van Hunks is up there trying to win his soul back.
The name for the 12 Apostles was supposedly coined by a British governor in 1820. There are 18 peaks on the mountain, but if you only count the buttresses (the rocky protuberances) there are 12, lining it up with a biblical reference.
Each peak actually has its own name. From North to South they are Kloof, Fountain, Porcupine, Jubilee, Barrier, Valken, Kasteel, Postern, Wood, Spring, Slangolie, Corridor, Separation, Victoria, Grove, Llandudno Peak, Llandudno Corridor, and Hout Bay Corner.