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Old Palapye is an important multicultural historical site containing artifacts from the Middle Stone Age, the Late Stone Age, the Early Iron Age, and in contemporary times, the 19th century capital of the Bangwato (led by Khama III), who occupied the area from 1889-1902.
Though only capital for thirteen years, the population of this settlement at the foot of the Tswapong Hills is estimated to have been approximately 300 000 people, including resident European missionaries and hunters. The wet, well watered micro-climate of Tswapong, and the perennial springs and waterfalls of Photophoto valley are believed to have been the main attractions for settlement.
When water supplies dwindled and proved insufficient, the Bangwato left Phalatswe and established their new capital at Serowe, where it remains today.
The occupation of Old Palapye is significant in the history of Botswana, particularly its role in restricting the Ndebele’s penetration to the then Rhodesia. It was critical as a centre for European encounters with Batswana, and provides evidence for one of the first agro-towns in Botswana.
Stone walls, middens (the stone remains of rondavels), rock paintings, and the remains of a prison, market centre and historic graves (both Europeans’ and Batswana’s) can all be seen at Old Palapye. The most outstanding structure is the remains of the London Missionary Society Church, which was built between 1891 and 1894. The front and back of the burnt-brick structure still stand, giving some idea of the huge effort that would have gone into its construction.
Some wild animals, such as baboons, vervet monkeys, porcupines, rock dassies and leopard, still inhabit the area. There are two Cape Vulture breeding colonies, the largest situated at Gootau, with more than 200 breeding pairs. The village headman must be approached to visit this site, and care should be taken not to disturb the birds.
The nearby Photophoto Gorge is less impressive than Moremi Gorge, but more accessible. It is used to water livestock and for religious rituals.
Situated near the village of Malaka (where there are waterfalls), Old Palapye has been earmarked for further tourism development, through the Malaka community based tourism project, and in conjunction with developments at Tswapong. Old Palapye was gazetted as a National Monument in 1938, and falls under the jurisdiction of the National Museum and Monuments.