Table Mountain

Table Mountain, I’m told, is a tenth the age of the earth. It is older than Africa. It was called Grandfather by those looking up at it centuries ago. The straight line spans two kilometres, though I wouldn’t bet on that. On the 12th of November, 2011, a collective cry went up from the streets of this city as the Table Rock was declared one of the world’s seven natural wonders. “A symbol of permanence,” the Mayor, Patricia de Lille said, “in a world of change.”

We live with it and it is sad that few of us allow this august presence to relieve us of our quiet desperation as we hurry through our streets and minds. Perhaps we do pause when the Table Cloth pours across the crag, a vast white cloud, dissolving massively before our eyes before it tumbles into the cradled city.

Hoeri-Kwagga they called it, those who inhabited the Bowl more than 100,000 years ago. To the right is Lion’s Head, claimed by some to have been the site of the moon cult by the Khoi-San people.

To the left, Devil’s Peak, the naming of which has an interesting history. British explorers wanted to name it after King James I, but a quirky little folk tale about a local who outsmoked the devil himself seems to be source and the name stuck.

In mid-July you can go to the observatory and view Mons Mensa, a constellation below Orion, named after the mountain by the French astronomer Nicolas de Lacaille in the mid-18th century. One wonders whether it was his description of Table Mountain to an artist in France that produced the charmingly inaccurate etching, amongst others, at that time.

“On the 6th April, 1652,” write Marquard and Mervis, “Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape to establish a halfway house for ships. On the 7th, he applied for a transfer.” So begins the funniest book about South African history yet written and it suggests that this gracious city took time to get there, as do all cities, with some of them simply limping, as far as aesthetics goes. Cape Town, of course, with Table Mountain, had an unfair advantage over every other city.

If we wanted to wax poetic about this place, we won’t be the first and we’d be in elevated company. The 16th century Portuguese poet, Luis de Camoens, in the epic poem The Lusiads, tells of Adamastor, a son of the titans, who was turned to stone, the Table Rock we witness. How can you not feel epic when you stand at Blouberg Strand and see it across Table Bay, spanning the city?

I stood there some time ago with a smooth pebble in my hands, its white sediments looking like a hotcross bun. I showed it to the geologist who spoke about the age of Table Mountain. He said that’s even older than the Mountain itself.

© Will van der Walt

Image Sources:  Table Mountain –, Lions Head –  source unknown & 18th-century etching – in public domain. 


2 Responses to Table Mountain

  1. J Koemer says:

    Of course, Table Mountain is “marching to the sea”, as an illustrious geologist friend of mine put it. so in another million years or so, it will be standing in water.

  2. Beautiful! You stimulate the urge to return to the mountain.

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