Cape Town - Green Point

Green Point
from a sandy wilderness to a
World Cup Host

The new Cape Town stadium under construction

Who would have thought that way back in the 1500's when only Cape Town's extinct lions roamed the sandy wilderness today called Green Point that a stadium to host the 2010 word cup would be built there and that the area would have become Cape Town's newest attraction.

Lets go back and and look at the history of this now world famous piece of land.

Green Point where once cattle roamed

From the time the Dutch arrived in Cape Town way back in 1652 the piece of land known as Green Point Common has been special. Known as "de vlakte genaamdt de Groene Punt" by the Dutch the name was changed when the British arrived to Green Point.

More or less in the centre of Green point a short way from Table Bay coastline is an area which was once known as the Camissa valley and it is here that way back in the 1650's two African tribes known as the Huri-!Xai Quena or "Sea-place Quena” and the Kurin gai-Quena or "Sea-food collecting Quena" also known as the Hottentots and Strandlopers lived.

While the African tribes lived on the land it was also known as Kai Haa Mullai or the Great Flat Pastoral Land.

Green Point Lighthouse

Over the years the word “Mullai” which came from the Kai Haa Mullai name was corrupted by the French and the area became known as Mouille Point. The name Mouille meaning "anchorage where there is none” and how true that name would become in the years that followed. There is still today a lot of uncertainty as to the name of the lighthouse in the area and many people still get it wrong calling it the Mouille Point lighthouse when in fact it should be the Green Point lighthouse.

The Dutch took a liking to this piece of land so they evicted the two African tribes and took over the land naming it De Waterplaats or the Foreshore. Once the African tribes had gone the Dutch grazed their cattle on the land. The former names have fallen away over the years and today the land is known as the Green Point Common.

The Common has a colourful history. In its early days it was used by the residents of Cape Town for walking and picnics on the beach. In the 1790's it became a horse racing circuit and was run by the African Turf Club. It stayed a race course until the Kenilworth race course was established years later. While horse racing was at its peak a grandstand was built for the punters and it still stands today. It is now utilised by MacDonalds as a fast food restaurant.

One of the reasons the Dutch used Green Point Common for their grazing was that during winter a vlei formed and gave them a good supply of water for their cattle. The water reached a depth of about five feet and when the British arrived in 1806 they started using it for sailing regattas and canoe racing.

Silt and sand gradually filled up the low lying ground so that in the early 1900's an Imperial Exhibition was able to be held on the Common.

The Green Point Common has always been linked with sport.

The first rugby match in South Africa took place between the "Officers of the Army" and the "Gentlemen of the Civil Service" at Green Point Common in 1862 with the match ended in a 0-0 draw.

The old Green Point Stadium all set up for a Michael Jackson concert

Cycle races also became popular after 1869 and these were raced at the Green Point cycle track. In the centre of the cycle track a cricket pitch was built and cricket was played their when the track was not being used by the cyclists. The old cycle track also played its part in history when Col Jack Rose set South Africa's land speed record on a bicycle. In the 1950's when the old Green Point Stadium was built a cycle track was incorporated into the stadium and the old cycle track became redundant ans was used for cricket and other sports.

Golfers living in the area were not to be outdone so in 1900 they persuaded the authorities that a golf course on the common would be a good thing. The 9 hole Metropolitan golf course was born and until 2006 it remained on the land allocated to it back in 1900.

Just in front of the flats top right you can see the new golf course being laid out

When the new Cape Town stadium was being planned they needed land for the stadium so part of the golf course was usurped by the authorities and the new stadium was eventually built on the old course. The golf course however did not lose out completely as new land to the west was allocated and has now been turned into a number of new holes for the course.

Other than sport the Green Point coastline has seen much action at sea as well. Many ships that anchored at Mouille point got themselves into trouble during winter storms and ended up on the rocks close to where the Green Point Lighthouse is today. Before the Green point Lighthouse was built there used to be another lighthouse a kilometre or two to the east of where the current lighthouse stands. It was known as the Mouille Point Lighthouse and those visiting the Hotel School in Granger Road can see the plaque that was laid on the lawns of the school where it used to stand.

The Seafarer being beaten apart by the waves

Some of the ships that came to grief over the years were the SS South African Seafarer which ran aground in a terrible winter storm about 50 metres off the Green Point Lighthouse on the 1st of July 1966 and during the rescue of the crew and passengers the Green point lighthouse stopped its light circulating and focused one of its beams onto the ship to assist in the rescue.

In September 1899 the Aberdeen line steamer Thermopylae went aground just off the Mouille Point Lighthouse. This ship was carrying an interesting cargo which included 2038 bales of wool, 382 casks of tallow, 1150 cases of potatoes, 64 boxes of butter, 7577 Ingots of copper, 1455 Ingots of tin, 5000 bars of bullion, 1221 cases of meats, 5648 carcasses of mutton, 2682 bags of ore, and a large quantity of sundries. The passengers and crew on board this ship were all rescued as was the gold bullion and other precious metals on board.

Engine block of Piscataqua sticking up out of the kelp

Some other ships wrecked in the vicinity of the Green Point coastline and lighthouses were The RMS Athens, wrecked in 1865 and in the same spot lies the Piscataqua, whose engine block still visible beyond the surf line today. The SS George M. Livanos burnt out opposite the lighthouse in 1947.

Fort Wynand in the shadow of the new stadium

Other than the Green Point Lighthouse that was declared a national monument there are some other historical buildings which have been declared national monuments in the area, They are the Old Somerset Hospital and Fort Wynand . Other historically important buildings which are not national monuments are the race course stand (now Macdonalds) the Hospital Museum and the Headquarters of the SA Institute of Medical Research and the Victoria Nurses Home.

Fort Wynand has always enjoyed a view of both the mountain and the sea but since the building of the new Cape Town stadium for the 2010 World Cup has lost its view of the mountain and its privacy. The new stadium overlooks Fort Wynand and shares some parking facilities with it. As you can see Green Point has had a really colourful history with its highlight being the world cup.

One aspect of the world cup I am sure many people will remember is the fan walk that was built for fans to walk from the city to the stadium. Before the world cup not many locals would have walked along the route but with excitement of the world cup and all the fans dressed up in their teams colours many locals even without a ticket to the game made the effort to walk the route. I don't think that Cape Town in all its history has ever experienced the vibe that was created along that walk, not even when Michael Jackson visited and performed in the old Green Point stadium.

When you next visit Cape Town take the time to walk along the fan walk and visit the new stadium and take the tour. After the tour visit Fort Wynand next door and then walk along the beachfront promenade to see if you can spot the engine block of the Piscataqua

Continue along the promenade on to the old Green Point Lighthouse with its red and white diagonal stripes. From the lighthouse cross over the road towards Signal Hill and visit the new park that has been established on the common near to the lighthouse.

Although not an established walking tour yet I am sure that there are enough highlights along the way for it to become one. For the present however it's a great way to spend a day enjoying Cape Town's sunshine and seeing the sights of one of Cape Town newest attractions.

See you all there soon!

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Green Point