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Our town's history

Facts and background of our town.

Founded in 1679

Close to Cape Town, South Africa, and surrounded by the magnificent mountain scenery of the Jonkershoek valley lies the historic town of Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch, the country's second oldest town, after Cape Town, was founded in 1679, during the period of control of the Dutch East India Company. Situated 111 metres above sea level on the banks of the upper reaches of the Eerste River. Here the river flows out of the mountains and into a shallow, alluvial and fertile valley.

50 km from Cape Town

Situated 30 km from beautiful beaches and 50 km from Cape Town. The active nature lover can enjoy the hiking trails in the surrounding mountain ranges or wander through the nature reserve in town. There are a wide variety of cultural activities in which the University’s departments of Music, Drama and Fine Arts play an important role. Furthermore, the Stellenbosch wine region is one of the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere and very highly regarded.

The town of oaks

Stellenbosch has become known as 'the town of oaks'. These trees being abundant. Some of the oaks have been proclaimed national monuments. When Governor Simon van der Stel first visited the area in November 1679 he was much taken by its beauty. The name Stellenbosch ('Van der Stel's bush') was given to the site of the governor's camp, and by the following year the first settlers had arrived from Cape Town. There was ample water from the river and the streets were lined with furrows, which brought the water to every house. Oak trees were planted and houses built of locally available material, with thick walls, doors and windows made of local woods such as yellow-wood and stinkwood, and roofing of black thatch. The houses were finished with white-lime wash. The handmade furniture of these early settlers has become much sought after by collectors. 

Magistracy established in 1685

Stellenbosch was established not simply as a centre of agriculture. With the authorities in Cape Town disctracted by the problems of the development of the Cape Peninsula, it became a romantic frontier town. The mountain ranges overlooking Stellenbosch from the north marked the limits of the little-known world of southern Africa, and beyond lay a great expanse of unexplored land. To control the hunters, explorers and pioneers intent on penetrating the interior, a magistracy was established in 1685, and for the next century the incumbent of this post wielded authority over an interior without geographcial limit. Though in Stellenbosch there was law, order and the tax collector, north of the town was nothing but wilderness.

Stellenbosch is perhaps even more beautiful

Each year on his birthday Simon van der Stel visited Stellenbosch and presided over a fair with shooting competitions, feasting and games. There he would meet the hunters, adventurers, traders and others attracted to this gateway to the unknown. Today's Stellenbosch is perhaps even more beautiful than when the governor first founded it. He never saw the oak trees in their maturity, or the main thoroughfare, Dorp Street, lined with houses, cottages and shops or the town square, the Braak, with its arsenal, parades, quaint houses, inns and churches.

One of the longest rows of old buildings

The recently created Village Museum comprises a number of original houses which have been restored. These have been furnished in the styles characteristic of several histroical periods. The Schreuderhuis forms part of this group, and is the oldest resorted townhouse in South Africa. No. 18 Ryneveld Street serves as the entrance to this collection of restored buildings. In Dorp Street is one of the longest rows of old buildings surviving in any major town in southern Africa. Most of the buildings date from the 19th century. Among these is No. 116, Voorgelegen, which contains some of its original Batavian tiles in the parlour. Alos in Dorp Street, the old Lutheran Church, built in 1851 by Carl Otto Hager, is used by the university as an art gallery. Nearby is the old home of the Reverand Meent Borcherds, La Gratitiude., on the gable of which the orignal owner modelled the 'all-seeing eye of God' to look down on townsfolk. Lower down the street there is the immaculately restored homestead of Libertas Parva, now the Rembrandt van Rijn Art Gallery. A military museum is housed in the Kruithuis ('powder house') on the west side of the town square. This was built in 1777. A perfect example of an H-shaped Cape Dutch dwelling is the Burgher House, a national monument. Built in 1797, it has been restored and is now an office building, furnished with 18th century antiques.

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