Created in 1696, Greenmarket Square is the second oldest public site in Cape Town (after the Grand Parade). The Burgher Watch House was built on the Square in 1716, from where the Burgher Watch (all males between 16 and 60 were obliged to do periodic shifts) would patrol at night. In 1761, the Old Town House was built in its place and used as the meeting place of the fledgling municipal commission that was created to meet the demands of the free burghers for greater control of their municipality from the Dutch East India Company. When Cape Town was granted its own municipal administration in 1840, the building became the first City Hall.
The square itself was originally used as a slave market and as a market for fruit and vegetables.
During the eighteenth century it was the location for the well that was the town’s main water supply during summer months when streams from Table Mountain dried up.
The square’s fortunes have fluctuated over the years: in 1905 the City Hall was moved from Greenmarket Square to the Grand Parade and the building was converted into an art gallery. Many of the buildings that remain on the square are of historical relevance: the Methodist church was built in 1871 and a hotel occupies the premises of one of the city’s oldest townhouses. The Protea Assurance Building and Market House are two of Cape Town’s finest examples of art deco architecture. After a period spent as a car park , the square has been returned to its original function as a market place. Today the square is a regular stop on the tourist itinerary, as the market sells tourist memorabilia from across Africa.
In 2007, plans were announced by the City of Cape Town and the Greenmarket Square Steering Committee for the entire square to become fully pedestrianised. Soon thereafter the upgrade of the square began. The resurfacing of the square has been completed and informal trading areas has been reconfigured. The ablution block is being upgraded and a permanent concert stage on top of these will become the main feature in this popular public space.