History of Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch lies near the head of the Eerste River Valley and is one of the most beautiful towns in South Africa, while the valley produces the grapes for some of the world's finest wines. Stellenbosch is in the heart of a fertile farming area, where many wine farms are found and the town itself homes one of the oldest universities in South Africa, which is more popular today than ever. This charming, unique little town has a rich history and many interesting things to see and do.
Stellenbosch was founded by Simon van der Stel in 1679, when he was appointed Governor of the Cape and travelled over to South Africa with his children from Holland. After arriving in Cape Town, he and his party journeyed towards the Mountains of Africa, where eventually they came across a lush valley, which Simon van der Stel described as a level valley, very suitable for agriculture, provided with water from the passing river and adorned with may wooded areas suitable for firewood and gardens. Van der Stels party pitched tents on an island; which has long since disappeared; and named the area Stellenbosch or 'van der Stel's bush' . Within a few years the valley was dotted with thatched houses and the ground was being used for agriculture.
After a pleasant stay in Stellenbosch, the van der Stel family returned to Cape Town leaving the town to grow, while retaining a special interest in Stellenbosch; often having to return to sort out quarrels about land rights, on one of these such trips van der Stel created a county court to settle any further disputes, in which members were elected and changed each year by an election. All matters had to be approved by van der Stel regarding the growth of his town. Traveling to and from Cape Town van der Stel went along the Wagon Road, known as Dorp Street today which is one of the best preserved old-time streets in South Africa.
By 1683 there were about 30 families in Stellenbosch, in that year the first school was built and the magistrate was appointed. In 1686 the church was built and an annual gathering was held there to celebrate the town's founder, Simon van der Stel's birthday on the 14 October, which he always attended. His birthday is still celebrated in Stellenbosch to this day.
In 1717 a new church was granted after fire swept through the town and burned the old church to the ground. This new church served the community up until 1862, until it was too small to accommodate the population of the rapidly growing town, when the church of neo-Gothic design, was built. This church was designed by Carl Otto Hagen, and was built by craftsmen brought over from Holland. There is a superb organ inside and the fabulous stained glass for the windows came from France , the pieces of glass are set in concrete.
The ruins of the first church were left until 1802, when the site was sold and the Wium's Hotel was built there. In 1972 the hotel was bought by Gerhard Lubbe, who restored the foundations of the church, which can be seen in the hotel basement. This hotel today is called d'Ouwe Werf.
So Stellenbosch was formed and to this day, is as charming as always. Ancient Oak trees line the streets around the new church, and the white buildings are well maintained to give a feel of the historic roots of this town.