Did you know that Cape Town has a chunk of the Berlin Wall sitting in the centre of the city? I did not. This is just one of the many fascinating titbits of information divulged by the exceptionally well-informed guides on Footsteps to Freedoms’ City Walking Tour of Cape Town.
The Taj Hotel with its pink veined marble lobby provides a beautiful backdrop for the start of the tour. Steeped in history, it certainly sets the tone for the morning’s activities, which spirit tour guests back to an era when Cape Town was a very different place.
Barely has the tour exited the Taj, when historical anecdotes start flowing. Discover the symbolism of the six trees standing outside St Georges Cathedral. Take in, for a moment, the fact that not only was Government Avenue the very first road in South Africa, ever, but that all those grand buildings running alongside it, Parliament included, are built on what was once essentially a Dutch vegetable patch.
Walking one block over brings the tour to the very spot on which thousands of slaves were bought and sold less than 200 years ago, a spot overlooked – without irony – by Cape Town’s first church. Directly alongside the original “slave tree” the Footsteps to Freedom guide then examines a series of monuments in polished black stone, which trace the names and experiences of some of those very slaves. The experience is humbling and in a chilling moment the realisation sinks in as to how very recently this all occurred.
And so the morning continues, with moments of historical humour, sadness and revelation. The guide may disclose, if asked, the mystery of the three roads beginning “Buiten” and the role of the bell ringer. And be sure to ask about the cannons! Cape Town has a surprising number of cannons, the excess of which have been utilised in very interesting ways. All of Cape Town’s forgotten or little-known stories start to tumble out as the tour winds its way around just 12 blocks of the city’s heart.
As participants crane their necks up, down and sideways, The Footsteps to Freedom walking tour carries its charges past Cape Town’s original fort, the foreshore and the first city hall in all its imported, neo-classic, sandstone glory. The route then meanders through the Adderley Flower Market where colourful flowers are sold by equally colourful vendors, traverses St Georges Mall and loops up through Green Market Square, A further stroll up Government Avenue brings the walkers to the cultural hub of Cape Town: the National Gallery, The South Africa Museum and the Jewish Museum. The home stretch includes a cool stroll through the Company Gardens, the guide dropping details like rich chocolates to savour all the while, before finally returning the tour to the Taj’s doorstep.
For resident Capetonians, this city walking tour is a novel way to re-discover Cape Town, to learn the quirky and interesting facts about our Mother City that people didn’t even know they didn’t know. For visitors, Footsteps to Freedom reveals an intimate peek into the wealth of history and culture that Cape Town has to offer. A wealth of fascinating information channelled in an engaging way, you’ll be amazed at just how much you’ll learn, and how much fun you’ll have doing so.
Jodi Le Roux
Footsteps to Freedom’s City Walking Tour costs R 200 per person and runs Tuesday to Saturday from the Taj Hotel, meeting at 10.15am. The winter special runs every Saturday through August and September 2012, and costs R 95 per person including a light soup lunch at the Taj’s Mint restaurant.