MOSSELBAY – where EUROPE meets AFRICA…
It is here in the heart of the Garden Route where the first commercial activities began between South Africa and other foreign countries, including Europe being the first country South Africa traded with. Many other “firsts” took place here, that is why the history of Mossel Bay is so special and was vital to the development of the rest of South Africa.
Although Mossel Bay’s human history can – as local archaeological deposits have revealed – be tracked back more than 164 000 years, the modern history of Mossel Bay began on 3 February 1488, when Southern Africans met European explorers.
Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal was a seafaring colonial giant, plying the ocean lanes for trade, bounty and new territories. In 1488, Bartolomeo Dias was the first European explorer to round the Cape of Good Hope, in search of a sea route to the East.
He sailed up South Africa’s east coast and on February 3, 1488, landed at the present-day Mossel Bay, where he drew water and traded with the local Khoi people. He landed with his men at a point close to the site of the modern-day Dias Museum Complex, which Dias named Aguada de Sao Bras (St. Blaise’s Watering Place).
Here they found a spring from which to replenish their water supplies. When the Portuguese navigator went ashore on Mossel Bay it was the first time the KhoiKhoi had seen white people from Europe.
These seafaring men started the post office system in South Africa, since the sailors used an old milk-wood tree to hang their shoes containing notes. This mail system was originally started by Pedro de Ataide in 1500 when he left an important letter, in which he warned of troubles he had encountered near Calcutta, in an iron pot shoe under the large tree, on his way back from the East. In 1501 his letter was found by Joao da Nova, en route to India. This large milk-wood tree was declared the first Post Office in South Africa.
The Post Office tree has been declared a provincial heritage site and it’s now one of the most important tourist attractions in Mossel Bay. Other important tourist attractions include The Fountain of fresh water that the first seafarers used – which is still flowing today – and the “Bartolomeo Dias” caravel which visitors can observe and board at the Dias Museum Complex.
Article: Melizza Liebenberg
Photos: MosselBay Tourism