Durban is the third most populous city in South Africa, forming part of the eThekwini metropolitan municipality. It is the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal and is famous as the busiest port in Africa. It is also a major center of tourism due to the city’s warm subtropical climate and beaches.
It is thought that the first known inhabitants of the Durban area arrived from the north around 100,000 BC, according to carbon dating of rock art found in caves in the Drakensberg. These people were living in the central plains of KwaZulu-Natal until the expansion of Bantu people from the north sometime during the last millennium.
Little is known of the history of the first residents, as there is no written history of the area before it was first mentioned by Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, who came to the KwaZulu-Natal coast while searching for a route from Europe to India. He landed on the KwaZulu-Natal coast on Christmas in 1497, and thus named the area “Natal”, or Christmas in Portuguese.
The modern city of Durban dates from 1824, when a party of 25 men under British Lieutenant F. G. Farewell arrived from the Cape Colony and established a settlement on the northern shore of the Bay of Natal, near today’s Farewell Square. Accompanying Farewell was an adventurer named Henry Francis Fynn (1803-1861). Fynn was able to befriend the Zulu King Shaka by helping him to recover from a stab wound he suffered in battle. As a token of Shaka’s gratitude, he granted Fynn a “25-mile strip of coast a hundred miles in depth.”
During a meeting of 35 white residents in Fynn’s territory on June 23, 1835, it was decided to build a capital town and name it “d’Urban” after Sir Benjamin d’Urban, then governor of the Cape Colony.
Voortrekkers established the Republic of Natalia in 1838 just north of Durban, and established a capital at Pietermaritzburg.
Fierce conflict with the Zulu population led to the evacuation of Durban, and eventually the Afrikaners accepted British annexation in 1844 under military pressure.
A British governor was appointed to the region and many settlers emigrated from Europe and the Cape Colony. The British established a sugar cane industry in the 1860s. Farm owners had a difficult time attracting Zulu laborers to work on their plantations, so the British brought thousands of indentured laborers from India on five-year contracts. As a result of the importation of Indian laborers (one of which was a young Mohandas Gandhi), Durban became the largest Asian community in South Africa. Two of Durbans most noted families, the Rotteveels and Fynns, still reside there.
Today Durban is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city and a major center of tourism due to it’s warm subtropical climate and beaches. Aquatic activities are a year-round draw here. Surfers, swimmers and body boarders flock to the lifeguard-patrolled Indian Ocean beaches north and south of the city. A promenade stretches along the Durban waterfront and is home to numerous restaurants, pubs, hotels, shops and the world class uShaka Marine World aquarium. The Victoria Indian Street Market is a bustling interesting place with mosques and temples as well as plenty of shops and delicious food.