Historic Trails in Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch is without doubt one of the prettiest little towns in the whole of South Africa. Situated at the head of the Eerste (First) River Valley, it was one of the first valleys to be settled in. The area is full of charming scenes and rich in history. The towns, villages and farmlands contain finely preserved examples of one of the most serene forms of domestic architecture found any where in the world - the Cape-Dutch style. When you are in Stellenbosch it is well worth spending an hour or two, walking the historic trail.
This will show you most of the historic places of interest within the town centre.
You can start the tour at any point on the map, and here are a few things to look out for.
Dorp Street This is the old 'wagon road to the Cape '. As you walk along Dorp Street , firstly
watch out for the mix of architectural styles, from Cape Dutch to Victorian. Look up at the variety of gables, arched gateways, shuttered French windows and thatched roofs - most of the latter have been replaced with corrugated iron, but a few are still visible. Starting from the top at 182 Dorp Street is the beautiful Old Reading Room now a private residence. Around the corner in Ryneveld Street no. 2 you will see Kolonieshuis which offered accommodation to visitors when Stellenbosch was known as a 'colony' of the settlement at the Cape . Back in Dorp Street you will notice that not all the houses have gables - Saxenhof at 159 has one of the most charming balconies in Stellenbosch. Next to it are four very attractive connected Cape Dutch houses. Framed by oak trees with a water furrow in front, they offer a picture of the tranquil life in times gone by. At 160 - 162 Dorp Street you will find the Stellenbosch Hotel, the main house of which was rebuilt after a fire in 1803 and presents a wonderful example of a neo-classical gable. Note the gateway linked to the main house at no 156. It is one of the few surviving originals. The Old Lutheran Church , also designed by Otto Hager, now serves as an art gallery. At 120/122 the Stellenbosch Gymnasium received its first pupils in 1866. Across the street no. 95 is home to 'La Gratitude', designed and built by the Reverend Meent Borcherds who supplemented his meagre income by being a successful part-time farmer. No wonder the famous architect, Sir Herbert Baker called the Cape Dutch Style "the most beautiful domestic architecture in the world". Look on the gable for the famous 'All Seeing Eye'. Opposite, a little further down the street is the popular Oom Samie se Winkel which stocks a wide variety of goods you won't find in any supermarket and has a wonderful atmosphere. Further down at 63 is a lovely homestead, Vredelust, the Kriges Cottages, built by Willie Krige who farmed at Vredelust in the late 1800's. Libertas Parva is asituated at 25 -33 Dorp Street. The main house has two front doors, one of which opens into a passage; the other does not open- it was only installed to maintain symmetry. Outside notice the gigantic old grape press, probably the oldest and biggest in the country.
Now retrace your steps and turn into
Market/Mark Street On the left as you walk along Market Street you will come to De Eiken, this is of significance as it was home to Carl Otto Hager, the architect of the Moederkerk, and the Old Lutheran Church . Further along is Van der Bijl House, named after Johannes van der Bijl, a pioneer in tree grafting, who moved there in 1848. Soon Market Street is joined by Herte Street , which is home to a simple row of cottages which were built in the 1830's by a missionary teacher for recently emancipated slaves.
Turning the corner of Market Street you will see a white stone wall and a lush green garden with a lovely Cape Dutch House at the top. This is the Rhenish Parsonage and Toy Museum, the museum is well worth a visit to bring back childhood memories. The Parsonage itself is set in beautiful gardens and has some stunning architecture. At the top of Market Street where it splits into two is a little island on which you will see the VOC Kruithuis, an old gunpowder house which was built in 1777. Now it has a small an interesting museum inside.
You have now come to the Braak, or the village green. In the north western corner stands St Mary's on the braak, a lovely little Anglican church. Note the sundial built into the wall of the church. On the corner of Bloem and Alexander Streets is the Burgerhuis. It houses an outstanding collection of furniture, porcelain and glassware as well as the headquarters of the Historical Homes of South Africa. Across the road is the Coachman's cottage and Laetitia. On the southern side and overlooking the Braak is the Rhenish Church. Completed in 1840 with funds raised within the village, this was firstly, a place of education and spiritual welfare of slaves.
A curious detail is that there are two bell towers. Next to it in Bloem Street are the buildings of the Rhenish Institute, a school built for the daughters of the missionaries. Today it houses an art school.
Across from the Rhenish Church and crossing busy street, is Church Street, which is full of many interesting shops and small pavement cafes where you can perhaps enjoy a relaxing coffee before continuing on your historic trail? At no.30 you will pass D'oude Werf, probably the oldest hostelry in the country and built upon the foundations of the first church in the village, part of which can still be seen underneath the present restaurant. Looking up Church Street you will see the Moederkerk or Mother Church, the beautiful gothic style pulpit dominates the church and there are lovely stained glass windows. Currently a small museum within the church is being constructed which is very interesting.
Turn right at the top of Church Street and walk along to the Theological Seminary or as it is known by students The Angel's Factory. The building takes up most of the historical site of the first administrative building, the Drostdy, of Stellenbosch.
As you leave the church onto Drostry Street, turn right and continue along to the Village Museum ,which is a collection of house's decorated in different period styles from Stellenbosch's history. The Museums houses are situated on Drostry Street and Van Ryneveld Street .
Daily guided walks on foot, twilight walks are also offered throughout the town.