A (forgotten) Historical Landmark: Green Market Square Water Fountain

In-between the hustle and bustle of street pedlars, African curios and every tourist inspired souvenir stall you can think of. Lies a piece of history, mostly forgotten and presumed dead. It once served a purpose but like most things couldn’t keep up with the times and was slowly, painfully erased from the-annuls of history. But in an effort to grace it with some of its former glory we’ve inducted the Green Market Square Water Fountain into our landmark series.

Some people would ask, why a water fountain and why one tucked away out of eye sight in amongst all the furious haggling of tourists? All jostling for the best pieces of African made wares that they can ship home at a steal? Well for one it’s a life giver and was the main source of water that once provided the fledging town (Cape Town) with fresh water. A prerequisite to any successful urban centre, but it was also a matter of location, location, location. Significant in that it was ideally situated on a square that throughout the centuries was the main trading centre and the heart of Cape Town. Solidifying its importance to the city of Cape Town and the population that lived and worked there.

However, the heart did for a time cease to function due in part to a significant change in the demographics of the administrative buildings lining the square. In particular the town hall, that toward end of the 19th century moved its offices to the newly built city hall on the Grand Parade (closer to central station). This in effect caused the traders and buyers to immigrate to the Parade, which in all honesty is a much bigger and more ideally situated square. This lasted till the end of the twentieth century, during which time Green Market Square was regulated to being nothing more than a proverbial car guard while it was used as a parking lot.

But as the century drew to a close the city recognised it’s importance and proclaimed the fountain, the square and all the buildings facades lining the square all national monuments. Effectively immortalising the Water Fountain so that it could never fall into disrepair again. This has partly restored some of its former glory, as a source of refreshment and sustenance.

In closing the Water Fountain on Green Market Square is an indispensable piece of history and although somewhat overlooked, had left a mark on society that is undeniable. So next time you find yourself haggling away on the square why not stop, take a gander and acknowledge the fountain for what it was and still is; a source of longevity. Much like the founders and the first inhabitants of the city respected it for.

Fun Factoids:

  • The earliest recorded use of the water fountain dates back to the 17th century, wherein it was originally used as well. At the time the well served all the residents of Cape Town. The well’s source of water was achieved by tapping into an underground stream running down from Table Mountain that naturally ended in the sea.
  • Interestingly enough, after heavy rainfall the streams would go into flood and the well/ water fountain would literally overflow out onto the square. What a sight that must’ve been.
  • The fountain is located in the middle of Green Market Square with the square being situated between the streets of Short and Longmarket. The streets were originally named Rijger (Old Dutch word for Heron or Egret) and Olifant (Elephant) Street. Additionally Greenmarket Square is bisected by Burg (Mountain) street. Take a look on a map of the city and you’ll see for yourself that it’s beginnings were very well thought out.
  • As mentioned in the piece, the fountain, the square and the buildings facades lining the square were all proclaimed national monuments in 1961. This was done in order to stop the encroachment of high-rise buildings being constructed in the second half of the twentieth century.

Some information sourced from this great historical website.

By Slippery Joe Lyzard © (Writer for Nomadic Existence)

Photography: Nomadic Bug © 

Nomadic Existence 2015 ©

 Explore. Conserve. Discover.


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