Heritage Square – A Walk into the Past

This beautiful little area in central Cape Town will captivate your mind and transport you back in time. Somehow the odd blend of new cars, a trendy cosmopolitan atmosphere and beautifully restored old buildings all work together to create a small corner of the city where you can relax, unwind and simply enjoy the sights and sounds around you. But how did Heritage Square reach its present status when it was earmarked for demolition only a few short years ago? A lot of hard work went into preserving this old little corner of Cape Town.

It all started with the proposal of the Buitengracht Freeway which was to be a massive ring road system for the city. Part of the plans for development of this road system included the demolition of the Bree/Shortmarket block and a number of old buildings on Hout and Shortmarket Street. Understandably, as soon as the proposal came under the public eye, there was massive opposition to the development. The numerous eighteen-century town houses – though in an ill state of repair – were seen by many to be a treasure for Cape Town’s past that should be preserved at all costs. A number of people took up the battle and before long, the need to conserve the buildings led to the abandonment of the proposed road-widening scheme and parking garage. However there was still a dilemma to be considered. The cost involved in the restoration of the buildings would be immense. Who would undertake such an initiative?

The Cape Town Heritage Trust was established in 1987 with fourteen properties which were donated by the City Council. Now it was time to renew old partnerships and after lengthy negotiations, the City Council donated the Bree/Shortmarket bock to the Heritage Trust in 1996. The Provincial Administraction had contributed a massive 80% of the cost of acquiring the properties and their role in the entire project was critical. The restoration of the Bree/Shortmarket block was, by far, the largest project to ever be undertaken by the Heritage Trust. They needed another partner and so entered into a joint venture with Sam Montsi. Working side by side with this developer, the Heritage Trust was able to restore, not only the group of town houses in the block, but all the associated outbuildings and warehouses. Today the block includes a fifteen-bedroom hotel, a number of superb restaurants, a variety of retail outlets, offices and even an operational blacksmith. The Bree/Shortmarket block was then appropriately renamed Heritage Square.

Today Heritage Square provides an interesting look into the past combined with innovative business projects which help to make it a viable part of the Cape Town landscape. Heritage Square offers a glimpse into what Cape Town was like roughly two-hundred years ago but the journey is fresh and appealing. Come take a walk through historical Cape Town at Heritage Square.

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