The History of Franschhoek

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The History of Franschhoek

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The History of Franschhoek

In October 1687 Simon van der Stel and 23 pioneers travelled from Stellenbosch over Helshoogte (Hell's Pass) and into the valley, which would in future be called Franschhoek. The pioneers established their farms of approximately 50ha along the banks of the Berg River and its tributaries.
Van der Stel named this valley Drakenstein (dragon rock) after the great estate in Holland belonging to the Lords of Mydrecht.
In 1688, 176 French Huguenot ( French Protestants who were members of the Reformed Church who had to leave France or face prosecution for their religious convictions ) refugees fleeing from religious persecution arrived in this valley, this is where Franschhoek gets its name - translated it means ' French corner'

The prearranged large scale migration of Huguenots to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa happened in1688. However, even before this individual Huguenots fled to the Cape of Good Hope in earlier years. In 1692 a total of 201 French Huguenots had settled at the Cape of Good Hope . Most of them in the area now known as Franschhoek. The emigrants were only allowed to take the bare necessities along with them, and after arriving in South Africa, they were expected to make a living from farming or by practicing a trade. If they decided to farm, they were given free land, implements, seed and animal stock, the cost of which had to be paid back to the Dutch East India Company, either in produce or any other items of value to them.

The Dutch East India Company wanted the Huguenots to move to the Cape because most of them were highly trained craftsmen or experienced farmers, specifically in farming grapes and making wine. They, as well as their descendants, were hard working, and their efforts led to a significant increase in the quality of wines from the area. A number of wine estates still have French names, as a reminder of their contribution to the wine-making industry. The number of vine plants increased from 100 in 1655 to over a million in 1700. Many places and families in this area keep their original French names, such as du Toit, Marais, Malherbe, De Villiers or Le Roux, which also spread over the whole of South Africa .

The Huguenot Memorial was constructed in 1938 to commemorate the 250th year of the Huguenots' arrival in the valley. The monument stands in a beautiful rose garden which is in full bloom in the early summer months. The three arches symbolise the Holy Trinity. The woman in front holds a bible in her hand and the torn chain symbolises the liberation from religious oppression. The central themes of the memorial are the Huguenots' escape from religious oppression, the strength of their beliefs and their contribution to the development of the area. Alongside the monument is the building which originally stood in Cape Town, some 70km away, but when it was demolished as much of the materials as possible were moved to this site, and it was rebuilt. Inside this building is the Huguenot Museum, the theme of the Huguenot Museum in Franschhoek is the history of the Huguenots before and after their arrival at the Cape of Good Hope. The museum contains a large variety of furniture, bibles, silver ware, kitchen utensils, documents, relics and artifacts which illustrate the life of the Huguenots in the area.

By the Huguenot Memorial - built in to mark the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the Huguenot settlers - flies the flag of Franschhoek. The flag is basically a French flag - as the memorial is funded by the French government - with a grey elephant in the centre. This is because there is a pass between Franschhoek and Villiersdorp which was originally an elephant path, and the Franschhoek Valley, before it acquired its "French" name, was called (in Afrikaans) Olifants Hoek. Herds of elephants frequently used to roam the mountains. Although today you will find no elephants roaming the mountains around Franschhoek - the last one was seen departing the valley in 1850 - the flag offers a wonderful reminder of what the area used to be like.

Today Franschhoek is home to around 6600 people; it became a municipality in 1881.

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