The History of Table Mountain

The History of Table Mountain

In 1998, Nelson Mandela proclaimed Table Mountain ‘a gift to the Earth’.

Heralded as one of the most impressive feats of nature, the remarkable Table Mountain dominates the Mother City’s skyline. Here are some...


Lesser-known facts about this distinctive berg - Table Mountain:

The Ancient History of Table Mountain

It is arguably the most famous landmark in the country, but Table Mountain was well-known long before the Mother City that surrounds it came about.

The Khoi and San people called the monolithic structure Hoerikwaggo, meaning ‘Mountain in the Sea’. Table Mountain was a sacred place for the Khoisan as they believed their god, Tsui or Goab, lived there. 

But the history of Table Mountain stretches back long before the indigenous peoples of South Africa roamed the now urbanized spaces of the country.

One of the natural wonders of the world, it’s over 260 million years old, which means it’s older than the Andes, the Alps, the Himalayas, and the Rocky Mountains.

There is some evidence that the mountain was inhabited during the Stone Age, as hand axes have been found in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.


Recent Developments in Table Mountain

The first recorded climb of the majestic mountaintop was done by Admiral Antonio de Saldanha, a Portuguese navigator, in 1503. It was he who also named it Taboa da caba or ‘Table of the Cape’.

Since then an aerial cableway was built, in 1929, before being closed briefly for upgrading. It was reopened in 1997. But climbers are still able to clamber up the sides using numerous hiking trails.

However, there are other ways to see Table Mountain and it’s surrounds, Cape Town has many scenic helicopter rides that enable you to see the majestic Mother City from above.

The sandy flats at the mountaintop make up the mountain’s plateau, which give it its name and measure approximately 3km across.


The ‘Tablecloth’ of the Table Mountains

Legend has it that the orographic clouds or ‘tablecloth’ that sometimes covers the plateau of the mountain is the result of a smoking contest between the Devil and a local pirate called Jan Van Hunks. Scientifically, though, the ‘tablecloth’ is actually the result of the forced lifting of air by the earth’s topography.


Height of the Mountain and It’s Highest Point

Although this imposing natural edifice dominates the city from every direction, it only measures 1113m in height, which is not very high, relatively speaking. But it is its significant emblematic value that makes it South Africa’s most well known landmark.

The highest point of the mountain is Maclear’s Beacon, a stone cairn measuring 1085m above sea level, on the eastern end of the plateau. It was built by Sir Thomas Maclear, an Irish-born South African stargazer, in 1865 for a trigonometrical survey.

Flanked by Devil’s Peak on the one side and Lion’s Head on the other, Table Mountain makes up part of the peninsula mountain chain, that stretches from Signal Hill in the north to Cape Point in the south, spanning some 60km.


An UNESCO World Heritage Site

This mammoth mountain is part of the Table Mountain National Park, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its biodiversity and unique fauna and flora. The National Park encompasses the entire mountain chain, as well as the seas and coastline of the peninsula.

Many species found in the park are endemic to the area, including the Table Mountain Ghost Frog, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.