The area has undergone many changes over the centuries from its first recorded use in precolonial times. For thousands of years, the land between the mountain and the sea was a rich hunting ground for small bands of hunter- gatherers. Stone Age tools have been discovered in the vicinity of the Grand Parade, indicating a long history of use.
Before it was urbanised the area included several mountain streams and this flat, well-watered land – so attractive to later colonials – encouraged use by the Khoi, who visited the area on a seasonal basis with large herds of cattle and flocks of sheep in the summer months. The herders’ seasonal settlements were situated around the Grand Parade area and large numbers of pastoralists camped here together with their flocks and herds.
The East City today links two distinct parts of Cape Town: the boundary of the historical inner core of the city at Buitenkant Street and the early 19th-century extensions to the east to Canterbury Street and District Six.
Extensions followed the emancipation of slaves in 1834, many of whom needed housing. At the same time trade was growing. The new areas that arose to address this need were divided into numbered administrative districts and the one to the southeast was known by 1867 as District Six.
Routes into the city at this time were from Main Road (later called Sir Lowry Road) as well as an upper route from the farms on the slopes of Table Mountain. This later became Roeland Street. Streams running from the mountain were canalised, including the Capelsloot in the area which is now Canterbury Street.
Today the East City still includes historic buildings from Cape Town’s colonial past and bears the scars of the forced removal of 60 000 people from District Six 50 years ago.
With its roots in our colonial and apartheid past, there are still many points of historical interest in the area as a new generation of residents, workers and visitors begin to make their mark in this area.
The Book Lounge
Much-beloved inner city bookshop, The Book Lounge helps bring Cape Town into the cultural and intellectual heart of South Africa with weekly book launches, talks and an annual book festival, Open Book. Writers from South Africa and the world can be heard in this beautifully refurbished space, which also welcomes children to its Saturday morning story time. “We’ve been here almost 10 years and there’s been a fair amount of development in that time and the area has changed. There’s been positive changes, which I believe has made a difference.” Mervyn Sloman, owner of The Book Lounge
District Six Museum
This beautiful, small museum is a popular destination for visitors and is a stop on the Red Bus tourist route, bringing many visitors to the East City each day. The accessible size of the museum, and its knowledgeable staff, who include former residents of District Six make this a great addition to Cape Town’s museum offerings.
“This side of the city brings a lot of cultures. It is filled with a lot of coffee shops and museums. I must add that tourism has picked up by threefold over the last year or so.” Jonathan Johnson, health and safety officer at the District Six Museum
Truth Coffee Roasting
In steam-punk style Truth is a large, busy eatery well worth a stop if you are exploring this historic precinct.
“We are always busy with all the tourists that are coming in. More tourists equal more business.” Malusi Hlongwa, chef at Truth Coffee
“This is a nice area to work in regarding how busy the street is. Our business is always booming with all the tourists coming in. We always have customers around.” Smanga Yaka, chef at Truth Coffee, recently moved to Cape Town from KwaZulu-Natal
Formerly in Bo-Kaap, this is another trendy eatery and coffee shop located in a heritage building. Service is leisurely, but there’s a lot to look at and enjoy.
Completed in 1814, the Granary first functioned as a Customs House in Buitenkant Street but was later used as a granary, and then became the Caledon Police Court until 1920. The building, which has been empty for some years, has been leased by the City of Cape Town and is undergoing a major refurbishment for use by the Tutu Peace Centre. At the corners of the building, on the skyline, are the seated figures of Britannia and Neptune, the work of master sculptor Anton Anreith, whose work can also be seen at Tuynhuys, the Castle of Good Hope, Groote Kerk and Groot Constantia. It is possible that the original design of the building was by Louis Thibault.
The Fugard Theatre
Named after leading playwright Athol Fugard, this addition to the theatre scene has made watching a play accessible to new audiences. At a smaller scale than Cape Town’s older theatres, the Fugard delivers an all-round experience with great set design by the likes of internationally renowned Saul Radomsky, a red carpet and ushers in top hats at front of house, and an array of local and international productions. Book quickly though as productions are increasingly sold out as dedicated regulars and visitors tend to snap up tickets.
An unpretentious favourite, this Portuguese eatery serves up good value meals with efficiency. Although it’s not small, bookings are advised to enjoy the tasty tentacles, sardinhas, trinchado, chourico and chicken livers on offer and there is always plenty of garlic and peri peri to go around.
“I love this place so much. The street is always busy and you never feel alone. The food here is also nice, no matter which shop you go to, you are guaranteed a nice meal.” Jenny Getz, intern at Berry & Donaldson, recently moved from Netherlands
Another icon of Cape Town hospitality, this family-owned business can make any cake that you can dream of. Visit the shop to have your spirits lifted by the abundance of cheerfully iced biscuits, cakes and cupcakes. Busy working moms can also rely on Charly’s to produce the perfect children’s birthday cake. Remember to call in advance as their services are in demand.
The District Six Clinic
This new clinic being developed by the Western Cape Government is nearing completion and will provide a wide range of services to the people of the central city and beyond. It will open its doors in the course of 2017.
New York Bagels It has filled a big gap in the CBD’s eating options. Affordable and quick, this breakfast and lunchtime eatery, which started out serving from a hatch in the wall, has made this part of Harrington Street a lunch food destination. Seeing the pastry chefs piping croissants and preparing the bagel dough is an added bonus.
“I enjoy the vibe of this city. New York Bagels is one of my newly found places which I frequent a lot. I also used to be a regular of the then Industry Pub, which is now known as The Saint. I just love this street.” Athi Ntwakumba, is a CPUT hospitality graduate, currently registered for MBA