South Africa's historical attractions
Did you know?
Africa is believed to be the birthplace of modern humans, with South Africa its specific cradle.
South Africa's historical attractions go back more than three million years to when early hominids roamed what would become South Africa. These distant relatives evolved into the earliest humans and dispersed to populate the world.
It is the return of their descendants in a great diversity of races and cultures that is told in another chapter of South Africa's history. The Khoi came back two millennia ago, followed by advancing Iron Age groups moving south from the northern and eastern regions of the continent.
By 1100AD Mapungubwe in the Limpopo Valley was the seat of the greatest kingdom in southern Africa. Now a major South African historical attraction, it traded gold and ivory with the Middle and Far East.
In 1488, the Portuguese mariner Bartholomeu Dias rounded the Cape and discovered the south-eastern entry to the Indian Ocean which heralded an astonishing period of European empire building. The Dutch established a refreshment station in what is now Cape Town in 1652, and then ensued a bloody quest for domination and survival that would ultimately shape the borders of the country. It was a conflict that coalesced into a racial war and the Freedom Struggle, which culminated in the downfall of apartheid in 1994.
It is this rich history that makes South Africa's historic attractions unique. You can search for your roots at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site near Johannesburg; stroll where your earliest ancestors did on the beaches of the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal; explore past civilisations; visit battlefields, museums, monuments and memorials; relive the early gold rush and diamond mining days; and follow the long walk to freedom of Nelson Mandela.
More than 300 historical museums are spread across the country, from the smallest towns to the largest cities, and cover everything from the emergence of humankind and the freedom struggle, to winemaking and transport.
There are the national historical museums: the South African and Robben Island museums in Cape Town; the National and Anglo-Boer War museums in Bloemfontein; the National Cultural History Museum and the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History in Pretoria; and the National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg.
Then there are the historical buildings. Ruins of early South African architecture can be seen at places like Mapungubwe and Thulamela in Limpopo. The oldest building still in use is the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town, which was built in the 1670s.
There are magnificent buildings in every part of the country, and in some of the most surprising places. Most of these are national monuments or heritage buildings, meaning they cannot be altered or demolished.