08 October 2013 by Denise Slabbert

Hidden Cape Town

The Mother City’s architectural and artistic secrets ... Hidden Cape Town by Paul Duncan and Alain Proust takes a look inside 30 of Cape Town’s most notable buildings.

The organ at the NGK Tafelberg. It has 1 164 pipes and a walnut case, and was installed in 1892

'This is a book about Cape Town's interiors,' writes author Paul Duncan in the introduction to Hidden Cape Town. 'It's about all kinds of places, from public buildings to centres of learning, places of worship to museums, that perhaps it never occurred to you to pop into, even for just a quiet moment. Spanning the centuries from the 17th to the 20th, the range is enormous.'

St George's Cathedral, Wale Street

Over 240 gorgeous pages, Duncan (former editorial director at Conde Nast Independent Magazines) and celebrated photographer Alain Proust pay tribute to 30 of Cape Town's most notable (some famous, some not so famous) buildings. They take the reader on a quiet journey to the heart of the city.

'Cape Town has a rich architectural heritage. Have you ever stopped for a moment and wondered what lies beyond the facades of the buildings you most probably drive past every day? Our city, like any other, is often just the wallpaper in our lives, and yet there's artistic, political, social, cultural, commercial and scientific life going on in those places, sometimes in extraordinary exteriors. They might be characterised by a magisterial dome, a set of frescoes, a period look, a carved staircase, a collection of furniture, or a set of tiles. Hidden Cape Town is about these places, many of them unsung heroes providing the backdrop to life.'

The book includes City Hall, the Palm Tree Mosque, Vergelegen, the Royal Observatory, Groote Schuur, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George, the Old Synagogue, the Irma Stern Museum and the Mount Nelson Hotel, with interiors beautifully captured by Proust (who has had his work published in over 20 books). The pictures are mesmerising: there is the organ in the Nederlandse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) Tafelberg on Buitenkant Street that dates back to 1892; the simplicity of the Palm Tree Mosque; the incredible lines of St George's Cathedral; and the incredible artwork of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, to mention just a few.

The Assembly Room at the Old Mutual Building in Darling Street, with frescoes by Le Roux Smith Le Roux (1942)

In beautifully written text, Duncan explores the history of each building and its place in our heritage – complete with fascinating anecdotes and quirky observations. He explores the interiors, the curiosities and the spiritual spaces that make up the landscape of this extraordinary city.

Says Duncan, 'The title, Hidden Cape Town, could imply that the places you see featured are intentionally hidden from view. In most cases, as I discovered, this simply isn't the case. Many are not inaccessible either; it's just that everybody rushes past, getting on with life. There isn't much thought for what lies beyond a familiar entrance. I suppose this is inevitable, given that central Cape Town is only now coming back to life after decades as a place to avoid. What has survived is often nothing short of miraculous...'

Hidden Cape Town is published by Random House Struik and is available at all good local bookstores as well as online.

Gereformeerde Kerk, Hof Street, Gardens. All images by Alain Proust

Category: Attractions, Culture & History

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