Durban, the multi-cultural city of balmy breezes, spicy curries and blissful beaches, has been a popular tourist destination since the early days of the 20th century. But there’s more to it than fun times and fine food. Did you know that it’s got a rich historical legacy dating back hundreds of years? And that it’s a city of many firsts and superlatives? Read on to find out 10 things you probably didn’t know about Durban, South Africa.
It has the busiest port in Africa
This is one of the accolades that the city is most proud of, and if you know any facts about the city, it’s probably this one, so let’s get it out of the way. By luck of nature and a little ingenuity, Durban has become the busiest port in Africa. The Bay of Natal is one of the few big natural harbors on the East Coast of Africa and that has allowed it to bring in tons of cargo. It’s also one of the top 10 busiest harbors in the world.
It used to be called Port Natal
When the British colonized the region around Durban in the early 1800s, they named it Port Natal. It wasn’t until 1835 that the city was named Durban, after the Cape Colony governor Sir Benjamin d’Urban. You’ll find out more about the name “Natal” if you keep reading.
It’s home to the oldest botanical gardens in Africa
Although there may have been older botanical gardens at some point in time in Africa, the one in Durban is the longest-known surviving garden. Established in 1851 to help nurture plants that would later be moved to Kew Gardens in England, today the gardens are home to thousands of thriving species.
It has the biggest population of Asians in sub-Saharan Africa
The majority of Asians in Durban are from the Indian subcontinent (some of whom have lived there for more than 100 years), but there are many Chinese and other groups as well. Asian Durban’s most famous contribution to the culinary world is bunny chow, a delectable curry served in a loaf of bread.
It has the fifth-largest aquarium in the world
uShaka Marine World, which opened in 2004, holds over 17,000 cubic meters of water in 32 tanks. It’s built around five old shipwrecks, which helps to differentiate it from some of the other large aquariums in the world, some of which aren’t even located on a coast, such as the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta or Shedd in Chicago.
It will be the first African city to host the Commonwealth Games
Citizens of Durban were incredibly excited when they found out their city would host the Commonwealth Games in 2022. This will make it the first city on the African continent to ever host the games. The city is no stranger to major international athletic competitions, however — Durban hosted some soccer matches during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
It was where Gandhi started out in South Africa
Durban was the first place that Mahatma Gandhi came to in South Africa, after he left India. He arrived in the city in 1893 on the SS Safari, and moved in with his family on Grey Street. Gandhi practiced law in Durban, and the Old Court House (now a museum) where he worked is one of the many places where you can walk in his footsteps.
It has an infamous reputation for sharks
Durban was the site of an infamous series of shark attacks in the 1950s. Nine people were killed in less than four months, causing many tourists to flee. Today, shark nets protect the majority of the urban coast. However, not every spot is covered, so if you want to surf, check first whether there is a shark net.
It’s home to the first steam train in South Africa
Way back in 1860, the first steam train in South Africa took off from Durban traveling a short distance of just 3km. It went from the city’s Market Square to Point station in the harbour. Although 3km isn’t much, it kicked off the development of South Africa’s railroad system.
It was a Christmas present
The discovery of Durban was a Christmas present for explorer Vasco da Gama. He came upon the city on Christmas Day 1497, and named the entire coastal area Natal (meaning Christmas). Tourists who want to pay their respects can visit the 400-year anniversary memorial in the middle of the city, which was restored during the 2010 World Cup.
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