Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town in South Africa. It is a significant tourist attraction, with many visitors using the cableway or hiking to the top. The mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park.
The main feature of Table Mountain is a level plateau approximately 2 miles from side to side, surrounded by steep cliffs. The plateau, flanked by Devil’s Peak to the east and by Lion’s Head to the west, forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town and its Table Bay harbor, and together with Signal Hill form the natural amphitheater of the City Bowl.
The highest point on Table Mountain is towards the eastern end of the plateau and is marked by Maclear’s Beacon, a stone cairn built in 1865 by Sir Thomas Maclear for trigonometrical survey. It is 3,563 feet above sea level, about 62 feet higher than the cable station at the western end of the plateau.
The cliffs of the main plateau are split by Platteklip Gorge (“Flat Stone Gorge”), which provides an easy and direct ascent to the summit and was the route taken by Antonio de Saldanha on the first recorded ascent of the mountain in 1503.
The flat top of the mountain is often covered by clouds/mist/fog spilling over the top to form the “table cloth”.
Table Mountain is at the northern end of a sandstone mountain range that forms the spine of the Cape Peninsula. To the south of the main plateau is a lower part of the range called the Back Table. On the Atlantic coast of the peninsula, the range is known as the Twelve Apostles. The range continues southwards to Cape Point.
The original name given to the mountain by the first Khoi inhabitants was Hoeri ‘kwaggo (“sea mountain”).
Prehistoric people first left evidence here more than 600,000 years ago. Evidence tools of these Early Stone Age hunter-gatherers were found in a depression near the Cape of Good Hope. The Middle Stone Age inhabitants (dating from 200,000 to 40,000 years ago) also left evidence of their life on the Peninsula. Fossils from around 8000 BC indicate that by that period the inhabitants of the region had developed bows and arrows which they used to hunt.
San (or Bushmen) hunter-gatherers relied on the seashore for most of their food. This resulted in the Dutch naming, Strandlopers (beach combers). About 2000 years ago the Khoikhoi migrated from the north, displacing the San, bringing with them their herds of cattle and sheep. It was the Khoikhoi who were the dominant tribe when the Europeans sailed into Table Bay.
Antonio de Saldanha was the first European to land in Table Bay. He climbed the mighty mountain in 1503 and named it ‘Table Mountain’. The great cross that the Portuguese navigator carved in the rock of Lion’s Head is still traceable.
Between 1896 and 1907, five dams, the Woodhead, Hely-Hutchinson, De Villiers, Alexandria and Victoria reservoirs, were opened on the Back Table to supply Cape Town’s water needs. A ropeway ascending from Camps Bay via Kasteelspoort ravine was used to ferry materials and manpower (the anchor points at the old top station can still be seen). There is a well-preserved steam locomotive from this period housed in the Waterworks Museum at the top of the mountain near the Hely-Hutchinson dam. It had been used to haul materials for the dam across the flat top of the mountain. Cape Town’s water requirements have since far outpaced the capacity of the dams and they are no longer an important part of the water supply.
The mountain became part of the new Cape Peninsula National Park in the 1990s. The park was renamed to the Table Mountain National Park in 1998.