The world famous Table Mountain is part of the scenic peninsula mountain chain that stretches from Signal Hill in the north (rightmost peak in the image above) to Cape Point in the south, some 60km. Around it are many beautiful valleys, bays and beaches bound by the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the warm waters of False Bay in the east. It is part of a World Heritage Site because of its unique flora and fauna. The sandy flats at the mountain top gave rise to its name.
It is granite and sandstone intersected by a number of picturesque ravines, standing at some 1113m high. In May 1503 the Portuguese navigator Antonio de Saldanha anchored his fleet in Table Bay and named it 'Aguada de Saldanha', or 'the watering place of Saldanha'. He also climbed Table Mountain, which he named 'Taboa do Capo', or 'Table of the Cape'.
This mountain is the first sight to greet seafarers as they enter Table Bay harbour and it is the most distinguishing feature of the city. On a clear day it is visible for many kilometers out to sea, and in the early days of sail, a reward was usually posted to the first sailor to make its sighting. The mountain is influential in determining the micro-climate of Cape Town and its surrounding environment, and for many years was the principal source of potable water for the city. Its distinctive cloud cover, known popularly as "the table-cloth", or to the French as the "perruque" (the wig), is said to have been the result of a tobacco smoking competition held between the Devil and Jan van Hunks, a retired privateer who inhabited the slopes of nearby Devil' Peak. Although plans to take a railway line to its summit were mooted as early as 1894, an aerial cableway was only built in 1929.
In 1795, during the British occupation of the Cape, three blockhouses were erected on the mountain. Between 1886 and 1907, five dams were erected on the back mountain in order to supply the city with water.
Dear friends of SAHO
South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.
SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.
Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.