You think you know a place, but the truth is, no matter how many times you’ve visited, there’s always something new to learn, whether you’ve been there once or a hundred times. Whether you’re visiting a city for the first time, or you’re a local, there’s always something that can surprise you.
Group Marketing Manager for Protea Hotels by Marriott® and African Pride Hotels Nicholas Barenblatt has collected some interesting facts and some hidden tips about various places from around the country. Here are some facts on your favourite city in South Africa:
- Never mind travelling to New Zealand to visit “the real Middle-Earth” and the Shire at the Hobbiton movie set, you really just need to head to Bloemfontein - the birthplace of Hobbit and Lord of the Rings author, J.R.R Tolkien, and now home of the Hobbit Boutique Hotel. The book is always better than the film, after all!
- The National Women’s Memorial on the edge of Bloemfontein was built in memory of the women and children who died in concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War. A concentration camp for women and children was built outside Bloemfontein by the occupying British in 1900.
- Bloemfontein has produced many major South African sports personalities including rugby players, Juan Smith, Os du Randt and Francois Steyn; athlete, Zola Budd; swimmer, Ryk Neethling; and cricketers, Hansie Cronje, Alan Donald and Morne van Wyk. Keep an eye out for local heroes on the streets of the city.
- The name Bloemfontein means “flower fountain” in Dutch. Legend has it that the name stems from a pioneer farmer in the area who lost an ox named Bloem to a lion near the fountain on his property. It could also be named for Jan Bloem, a KhoiKhoi leader in the area.
- There is more than one Johannesburg. You’ll find the other in California, a tiny town named by miners who had worked in South Africa, near another similarly familiar-sounding town named Randsburg. Both were created to serve the nearby Rand Mine. Not surprisingly considering the names, the Rand Mining District initially produced gold.
- Johannesburg is the “most popular African city” for young people between the ages of 15 and 29, according to the 2015 YouthfulCities Index, topping Lagos, Casablanca, and Nairobi. This means there are plenty of things to keep the millennial generation busy, from the trendy Maboneng precinct, to the modern malls peppered across the city.
- O.R. Tambo International Airport is Africa’s busiest airport – with the capacity to handle up to 28 million passengers a year. It is also one of few airports that has direct, non-stop flights to six continents.
- Johannesburg is home to Africa’s tallest skyscraper and former tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, the 50-storey (223metre) Carlton Centre. Visitors can head to the “Top of Africa” for 360 degree views of the city.
- Johannesburg is the largest city in the world not founded on a lake, river or ocean.
- Johannesburg is also widely regarded as the world’s largest man-made urban forest with more than 10 million trees.
- There’s an old town in France named Durban, in mountainous wine country, but it was named long before ours, and its population pales in comparison to our city, with not even 1000 inhabitants.
- The first steam railway track in South Africa was built in Durban in 1860 by the Natal Railway Company. It was just 3.2km long and connected the city to Harbour Point.
- Durban was originally named Rio de Natal by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. He arrived on Christmas Day in 1497. ‘Natal’ means ‘Christmas’ in Portuguese.
- According to Tourism KZN, Durban is one of the most significant repositories for Art Deco architecture in the world.
- Durban is home to the largest and busiest shipping terminal in sub-Saharan Africa, handling 31.4 million tonnes of cargo per year.
- You guessed it, there’s another Capetown too (one word this time) – regarded as the westernmost settlement in California. It’s located in their ‘wine country’, just north of San Francisco.
- Table Mountain National Park is home to more 2200 species of plants. That’s more than the entire United Kingdom!
- The tunnels that were built to stream fresh water from Table Mountain to the harbour and to maintain the Company’s Gardens still exist under the city today. You can take a tour, if you don’t mind the rats.
- If your favourite movie is still Cool Runnings and you dream of following in the footsteps of the Jamaican bobsled team, you’ll be pleased to know that the Mother City is home to Africa’s first toboggan run. It’s aptly named Cool Runnings, and you’ll find it in Bellville.
- Much of Cape Town was originally under water. It’s hard to believe now, but the Castle of Good Hope was originally on the water’s edge. Strand Street, in fact, was once under water – literally, the name means ‘the beach’. Walk around the lower part of the city and you’ll still be able to identify traces of its marine history – Sea Street, for instance, is a small road that runs off Riebeek Street and intersects with another reminder of the ocean’s proximity, Waterkant Street.