#SAHistory, Week 2: Exploring Rhodes Memorial & a hike up Devils Peak

When planning a trip to Cape Town, we always resort back to the same old tourist attractions - climbing up Table Mountain, wine tasting in Stellenbosch, Lunch at The V&A Waterfront, a trip to Robben Island and a picnic at Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. Don't get me wrong, they all remain wonderful, but what other lessor known attractions are there in Cape Town?

For this trip I was on a mission to find something a little bit different to do and what better way to do it than to chat to a local. My friend Tash has lived in Cape Town for many years, and she highly recommended I check out Rhodes Memorial that can be found at the base of Devil's Peak. I had vaguely heard about it in passing, but never really put much thought into it, let alone planned on visiting it.

History was a subject that I most excelled in. There was something about retracing the footsteps of past influencers that got me most excited. Over the last couple of years, I have become immensely fascinated by South African history, and you will recall all my past posts on retracing the footsteps of the Voortrekkers. This is only a small part of my #SAhistory challenge which I started 12 months ago, so you can expect a few more blog posts highlighting SA's top historical sites over the next couple of weeks. My plan is to visit all those places that have made a mark in defining our South Africa and for shaping it to what it is today.

A brief look at the history of Rhodes

The Rhodes Memorial was erected in 1912 in honour of Cecil John Rhodes - a controversial figure in South African history. This power-hungry politician was British born and had an aim of bringing the two Boer Republics, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal under British control. He further dreamed of extending Britain's influence all the way from the Cape to Cairo, although never succeeding.

​He had acquired considerable land holdings, including vast areas of the lower slopes of Table Mountain, the Groote Schuur Estate and the now Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

He was the most powerful mining magnate of all time and made a small fortune upon founding De Beers Consolidate Mines. This power hungry politician became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and used his influence to pass laws that benefitted mine owners and industrialists. He was forced to resign as Prime Minister following his involvement in the Jameson Raid which contributed to the Anglo Boer War.

He passed away in 1902 at the age of 49, and bestowed the land to the nation. Today a part of his estate is used for the University of Cape Town upper campus.

His name is also attached to a scholarship, now known as the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship, which enables African students with leadership potential to study at Oxford in the United Kingdom.

The Statue of Energy

This impressive monument is free to enter and is often referred to as the Statue of Energy. Built by a famous architect this monument closely resembles the Pergamon temple that can be found in Greece. He used granite extracted from Table Mountain to build it, and today is part of the Table Mountain National Park.

Standing at the base of the monument and looking upwards towards the massive staircase you will get a sense of power. There are 49 stairs in total and are dedicated to each year of Rhode's life. Centrally positioned at the base of the stairs you will see a bronze statue of a horseman overlooking the Cape Town escarpment.

On the left and right hand sides, you will notice eight bronze statues of lions that lead you up to the semi-circular terrace formed with Doric pillars protecting the monument of Rhodes.

Pay no attention to his nose! This was cut off by vandalists who accused Rhodes of being a Racist, thief and murderer.

On closer look of the monument you will see an inscription "To the spirit and life work of Cecil John Rhodes who loved and served South Africa".

Above the bronze statue of him you will notice the last four lines of the last stanza from the 1902 poem Burial by Rudyard Kipling.

The immense and brooding spirit still

Shall quicken and control.

Living he was the land, and dead,

His soul shall be her soul!

The Kings Block House

The area around the memorial is beautiful, and is also the staring point for the hiking trail up Devil's Peak. It is surrounded by pine forests with a game enclosure where eland, zebra and wildebeest are kept. There are talks that indigenous antelope species will soon be released on the land.

The walk takes about 3 hours to complete and within an hour you will reach the Kings Block House which was built as a defensive lookout point in 1796 by the British. It extends in both directions towards Kirstenbosch and towards Table Mountain. It is very isolated, and there has been a history of crime in the facility so be sure to hike up there with a few friends. The descent down the southern suburbs site can be very steep and wet (particularly Second Waterfall Ravine, Dark Gorge and Els Ravine), so take care when walking there, as many hikers have lost their lives along this route. (Not to put you off or anything, its beautiful here, so just take care!)

Image by Vincent Mounier

For few extra hours of walking you will get to the top of Kirstenbosch. Here you can see stunning views over the city and False Bay. The walk is pleasant with boardwalks through the forest providing you with shelter from the sun.

Lunch at the Memorial Resturant

After your hike, grab a bite to eat at the Rhodes Memorial Resturant. The menu changes seasonally here with a strong al fresco influence in the summer. Winter boasts a roaring log fire, and offers some unique South African dishes such as Ostrich Bobotie, Cape Malay style curries and Lamb Bredies.

You wont be disappointed!








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