Stellenbosch On Foot

Have you ever taken a leisurely stroll through Stellenbosch, admiring its historic architecture and soak in the captivating stories of the town’s history? Uncover the charm and history with Stellenbosch on Foot, a guided walking tour thoughtfully organised by the Stellenbosch Tourism Office.

About Stellenbosch on Foot
Stellenbosch on Foot has been around for 25 years and is conducting daily tours at 9:00, 11:00 and 15:00.

Take a historical journey through Stellenbosch, guided by knowledgeable experts. Wander through the “village of the oaks,” where streets are graced with shady oak avenues tracing the water furrows of the Mill Stream. Admire the beauty of Cape Dutch Architecture and delve into stories about the vibrant inhabitants of this second oldest town in South Africa.

This walking tour seamlessly blends with the Art on Foot tour, providing an opportunity to explore the town’s galleries and connect with local artists. Stellenbosch On Foot reveals the town’s artistic and historical layers, offering participants a holistic experience. As part of the tour, you’ll visit notable exhibits such as the Stellenbosch Outdoor Sculpture Trust, a non-profit initiative devoted to bringing contemporary art to a broad and diverse audience.

Little bit of History

The history of the Cape Colony intertwined with the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) quest for control over the lucrative Spice Route, marks a pivotal era in the shaping of South Africa. The VOC seeking to establish a refreshment station to supply its ships en route to the East Indies, sent Jan van Riebeeck to the Cape of Good Hope.

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck, a Dutch navigator and administrator, landed at the Cape with the directive to create a settlement that would serve as a resupply point for VOC ships traveling to and from the East. The Cape’s strategic location made it an ideal stopover, allowing sailors to replenish provisions and recover from the arduous journey.

Over the years, the Dutch presence at the Cape expanded, with the establishment of the Cape Colony in 1652 laying the foundation for European settlement in the region. As the VOC maintained control, the Cape became a vital link in what was known as The Spice Route – a network of sea routes connecting Europe to Asia, facilitating the trade of valuable spices, textiles, and other commodities.

Simon van der Stel

Fast forward to 1679, Simon van der Stel (the son of a Dutch East India Company official), became the 9th Governor of the Cape Colony. He was also the first one to stay longer and started exploring. Under his leadership, the settlement underwent significant development. Simon van der Stel played a crucial role in transforming the Cape into a more established and prosperous colony. His tenure saw the introduction of vineyards, the establishment of Stellenbosch in 1679 and the encouragement of agriculture to sustain the colony.

The town of Stellenbosch, founded during this period, became an important center for agriculture and viticulture, contributing to the Cape’s economic growth. Simon van der Stel’s legacy is also evident in the architectural heritage of Stellenbosch, with the Cape Dutch style, characterised by gabled buildings and whitewashed facades, leaving an indelible mark on the town’s landscape.

Stellenbosch Founded

Embarking from the Castle, their journey traced the coastline towards Somerset West, where they encountered a fascinating group known as the “Hottentotte.” This encounter bestowed the name Hottentots Hollands Mountains upon the vast mountain range. As they reached the mountains, history books unveil a reluctance to climb over the mountain, driven by the unknown that awaited on the other side. Instead, they opted to navigate along the mountain range until reaching the first river, a landmark still known today as the “Eerste Rivier.” Situated within the river was a small island, roughly the size of two rugby fields. Exploring the valley revealed fertile ground for cultivating wheat and planting vines.

The decision to delve into winemaking wasn’t merely a quest for taste. It was born out of practicality. Wary of the wine’s tendency to oxidise during the long voyage from Europe, eventually turning into vinegar by the time it reached Indonesia, cultivating vines in this promising valley became a strategic choice. The first wine made was on 2 February 1659.

A year after Simon van der Stel’s 1670 visit, 11 Vryburgers (those free from Dutch East Company ties) kickstarted a small settlement in the valley. Baron van Rheede journeyed to Holland to legitimise Stellenbosch as a town, per Dutch law mandating a magistrate’s office, church and school. The magistrate’s office, where Simon van der Stel stayed and South Africa’s first Christian church took shape, the location of the school is still unknown. November 1679 marked the moment Baron van Rheede etched a dot on the map, designating it the “colony of Stellenbosch.”

By 1710 an odd twist occurred. The pipe-smoking magistrate, in need of coals sent his servant to fetch, inadvertently set ablaze the entire town when a wind scattered the coals onto the magistrate’s building roof during a courtyard stroll.

In 1803, Stellenbosch bore witness to South Africa’s first recorded riot. Discontent brewed against VOC interference in daily town affairs, resulting in another fiery episode with the town set on fire. To prevent future catastrophies, they opted to construct the church outside the town which is where the Moederkerk is situated today. For 12 years while the church was being built, the old wine cellar, once a hub for crafting “Dorpswyn,” hosted the congregation.

Stellenbosch University

Standing what used to be an island as the river runs behind the Magistrate’s Court, today it’s the Stellenbosch University. There used to be a branch that formed the island. In the winter when the snow melted, the river flooded and half the town got flooded so the Dutch dried up the river. The river flows beneath the town as well as in and around the town centre. It is for this reason that you will not see any buildings taller than 4 storeys – with the river below the town, a foundation cannot be laid that will be sturdy or deep enough to hold a tall building.

The bottom part of the building was the old magistrate’s office and when it burnt down it became a private home until 1823 when the owner passed away and he donated it to the Bible Institute. In that same year, the magistrate at the time, his wife planted a Norfolk Pine which is the highest tree in Stellenbosch. Then in 1859 they started a bible school and in 1905 they converted it into a double-storey building. Since the 1940’s Stellenbosch University has been renting the building from the church and is now the Head of the Theological Department or being referred to as the “Angel factory”.

Dorp Street

Strolling along Dorp Street, formerly known as “de wagenweg naar de Caab” or the wagon trail to the Cape, reveals a South African thoroughfare adorned with numerous historical buildings and national monuments. The street is lined with oak trees, brought to South Africa by settlers who aimed to cultivate them for wine barrel production. Despite the initial intent for winemaking, the local climate proved unsuitable. Additionally, attempts with Turkish oak, also known as the crown oak, were unsuccessful due to climatic mismatches.

Supposedly, as you traverse the winelands, passing iconic estates like Meerlust, Spier and Boschendal, you’ll notice a distinctive feature – a towering palm tree. Legend has it that this palm serves as an indicator that wine is available for purchase at those vineyards.

Before 1861, South Africa lacked schools for girls. The Rhenish Institute pioneered the establishment of the first girls’ school in South Africa, offering needlework and cooking. Named Rhenish, it also marked the inception of boarding facilities. By 1866, the Stellenbosch Gymnasium, now Paul Roos Gymnasium, emerged. By 1887, Stellenbosch had educated boys and girls. The Stellenbosch Gymnasium later split into Stellenbosch Gymnasium and Victoria College, offering further studies. Stellenbosch became the first place to obtain a degree in art by 1887. In 1918, a local donated £100k to acquire the college, with the stipulation that Afrikaans be the sole teaching language. In 2017, an agreement allowed English to be introduced alongside Afrikaans.

Dorp Street’s quirk lies in its dual street numbering, a unique feature in Stellenbosch. There’s a number on the ground and another against the wall, a peculiarity exclusive to this street. The Dutch, who initially planned the town, commenced numbering from the upper part. Strangely, when the British Postal Services arrived, they started numbering from the bottom. Before houses got numbered, identification relied on the window above the door. Some had a half-round frame, others a square, with descriptions like “the half-round frame on the right side of the wagon trail to the Cape” to pinpoint homes.

The Stellenbosch Kitchen Restaurant building formerly served as a doctor’s surgery, while across the street stood the morgue. The morgue had low windowsills to facilitate the easy transfer of bodies, eliminating the need to lift them too high when pushing them through the windows.

In the past, there was a designated area for women to do their washing. It was a rare opportunity for them to have time away from the men and enjoy a few hours to themselves. During the restoration of this space in the early ’90s, they made sure to include amenities catering to women, like shops for doing nails, boutique clothing shops as well as some of the first wine bars started.

As you stroll around, it’s hard not to notice that every building is adorned in white. The Dutch tradition involved crushing seashells, baking them and applying the mixture to the walls, establishing an unwritten rule that only white paint is permissible in Stellenbosch. Additionally, there’s a unique guideline in place that no building is permitted to surpass the height of the clock tower.

Oldest Street Art

Discover the oldest street art in Stellenbosch, an iconic cat sculpture. In the 1930s, Stellenbosch grappled with a cat problem as felines roamed freely, invading restaurants. In response, cats were banned. Ironically, this led to a rat infestation. Around 1948, Stellenbosch reversed its stance, making a commitment to embrace all cats without discrimination, commemorated by the statue of the cat you see today.

Back in the day, the intersection of Plein Street, Church Street and Ryneveld Street was home to the old church. After lying dormant for half a century following the second fire, the land was split into eight spots. Right where the church once stood, the Oudewerf hotel emerged, proudly claiming its status as the oldest operational hotel in South Africa. The enduring door, a solitary relic, was the entrance to the church’s backyard, now recognised as a national monument. A preserved historical church graveyard can still be seen under the hotel’s kitchen today! Some say you might still see a ghost or two!

Imagine standing at what used to be the end of the town, with the church built just outside of it. Amidst fires and floods, there’s a resilient structure, an old and slightly skewed house across the road. Built in 1709 by Sebastian Schreuder, this colonial gem known as South Africa’s oldest restored town house, having weathered the storms of time. Sebastian, driven by a commitment to his girlfriend, constructed the house without a foundation. Now 324 years later, the Schreuderhuis stands as a testament, the oldest restored and documented town house in all of South Africa.

Stellenbosch On Foot offers more than a glimpse into the town’s history. It’s an exploration of its oak tree-lined streets, diverse community and distinctive Cape Dutch architecture. The tour ensures more than a mere stroll through time. It’s an adventure into the heart of Stellenbosch’s rich cultural tapestry.

Contact Details

Tel: +27 (0)84 4797262

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