There is no certainty as to when humans first occupied the area prior to the first visits of Europeans in the 15th century. The earliest known fossils in the region were found at Peers cave in Fish Hoek and date back 12,000 years ago. Little is known of the history of the region's first residents, since there is no written history from the area before it was first mentioned by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1486.
The area did not have regular contact with Europeans until 1652, when the Netherlands' Jan van Riebeeck and other employees of the Dutch East India Company were sent to the Cape to establish a way-station for ships travelling to the Dutch East Indies.
Britain captured Cape Town in 1795, but the Cape was returned to the Netherlands by treaty in 1803. British forces occupied the Cape again in 1806. In the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814, Cape Town was permanently ceded to Britain.
Conflicts between the Boer republics in the interior and the British colonial government resulted in the Second Boer War of 1899-1901. Britain won the war. In 1910, Britain established the Union of South Africa, which unified the Cape Colony with the two defeated Boer Republics and the British colony of Natal. Cape Town became the legislative capital of the Union, and later of the Republic of South Africa.
Cape Town is the provincial capital of the Western Cape, as well as the legislative capital of South Africa, where the National Parliament and many government offices are located. The centre of Cape Town is located at the northern end of the Cape Peninsula. Table Mountain forms a dramatic backdrop to the city bowl, with its plateau over 1,000 meters high; it is surrounded by near-vertical cliffs, Devil's Peak and Lion's Head.
Local time GMT +2 hours.
The Cape Peninsula has a Mediterranean climate with well-defined seasons. The winter months, which last from May to September, are cool, with an average minimum temperature of 7 °C. Most of the city's annual rainfall occurs in wintertime, but due to the mountainous topography of the city, rainfall amounts for specific areas can vary dramatically.
The valleys and coastal plains average 515 mm of rain per annum, while mountain areas can average as much as 1,500 mm per annum.
Summer, which lasts from November to March, is warm and dry. The Peninsula gets frequent strong winds from the south-east, known locally as the Cape Doctor, because it blows away pollution and cleans the air. Summer temperatures are mild, with an average maximum of 26 °C.
According to the 2007 Community Survey, the city has a population of 3.5 million. Cape Town's land area of 2,455 square kilometres is larger than other South African cities.
41.4% of Cape Town residents speak Afrikaans at home, 28.7% speak Xhosa, 27.9% speak English, 0.7% speak Sotho, 0.3% speak Zulu, 0.1% speak Tswana and 0.7% of the population speaks a non-official language at home.