The Quena (pronounced kena) people were the original inhabitants of Cape Town. Also known as the Otentottu, meaning “mixed people”, they lived beneath the slopes of the Table Mountain, which they called Hû-!Gâis, or “Great Rocks of Storm”.
The Quena called Cape Town Camissa, meaning “Place of Sweet Water”. Camissa’s network of streams and springs still flow off Table Mountain and through the city today, though much of it is routed underground to the sea.
A shortage of grass for the Quena’s cattle in the dry season and the “sour” pasture during the cold months forced them to leave the Camissa Valley (the basin below Platteklip Gorge where Cape Town arose).
After the arrival of the first Dutch settlers in 1652 several estates above the Company Gardens were granted to free burghers (the Dutch word for “citizens”) during the 17th Century. Fine mansions were built on the land, including the homesteads of Oranjezicht and Saasveld, which have been demolished. Others, like Leeuwenhof, Waterhof, Bellevue, Rheezicht and Nooitgedacht are still standing.
The history of the estate on which Cape Town’s most luxurious hotel, the Mount Nelson, is built dates back to 1741. It was first named The Garden of Oudtshoorn, and adjoined the Company’s Garden.
The land where the Mount Nelson now stands was first granted to young Dutch Baron Pieter van Rheede van Oudtshoorn, by the Governor of the Cape. A portion was bought by the Cape Land Company in 1890 to build a hotel for the passengers of luxury mailships sailing to and from the Cape. The Mount Nelson opened its doors on Wednesday 1 March 1899.
An Englishwoman visitor in the 18th Century noted that Cape Town was “just like the Dutch toy towns with its straight streets, white houses of only two stories, flat roofs and trees in every street.” She added, “The place is filled with English, Dutch, Hottentots, Malays, Parsees, fleas and bugs; the last appear to be the principal inhabitants and the oldest settlers.”
The Labia Theatre is the oldest independent cinema in South Africa. Both the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Labia Theatres fall into this hood. The original building on Orange Street was originally an Italian Embassy ballroom and was opened by Princess Labia in May 1949 as a theatre for live performances.