Culture & Heritage
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Museums and Galleries
Groot Constantia is one of the oldest wine estates in South Africa. At the Orientation Centre there is an exhibition covering various aspects of the estate, past and present. Display panels give information on the history, geography, botany and the importance of wine farming in the Constantia Valley. A particular focus of the exhibition is rural slavery and its basis for wine farming. For more information on the slave heritage of Groot Constantia, visit the Heritage of Slavery in South Africa website http://www.iziko.org.za/sh/resources/slavery.html
The Groot Constantia Homestead or manor house is a magnificent example of Cape Dutch architecture and is furnished as the home of affluent farmers of the 18th to early 19th century at the Cape. Most of the furniture in the house was made at the Cape and the paint colours and dadoes are typical of Cape houses of the 18th century.
The Wine Museum is situated in a part of the historic wine cellar. Storage and drinking vessels for wine, dating from antiquity to the early 20th century are presently exhibited. Also exhibited is part of the carriage collection, amongst which are a Sefton Landau, Cape Cart, Ralli Cart, Buggy and a Farm Cart. The remainder of the carriage collection on the farm is exhibited in the coach house that forms part of the Jonkershuis complex. Amongst them are light trolleys or 'molwaens', a wagon drawn by six horses and a pioneer wagon known as a 'kakebeenwa'.
For more information go to http://www.iziko.org.za/grootcon/homestead.html
World Heritage Site
The Cape Winelands cultural landscape was one of the nine candidates for World Heritage Site status that South Africa submitted to UNESCO. As part of the Cape Winelands, the Constantia Valley is an outstanding example of a vineyard cultural landscape enriched by influences from five Continents (Africa, Asia and the East Indies, Europe and the Americas). It illustrates the impact of human settlement and agricultural activities and more specifically the production of wine for more than 350 years.
This unique and special cultural landscape that took more than three centuries to create is under threat. In a period of less than 30 years, the character of the area is changing with the development of high density cluster housing against mountain slopes and on remaining open land, relentless consolidation and sub-division of existing properties and insensitive treatment of streetscapes.
The CPOA (Constantia Property Owners’ Association) initiated a study of the tangible heritage resources in the Constantia Valley to be used as the basis for a conservation management plan for this portion of the Cape Winelands cultural landscape. The study has gone through the approval process by the South African Heritage Resources and will be included in the work that is now being undertaken towards the declaration of the Cultural Landscape of the Cape Winelands as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The full study can be found at
In brief, the heritage inventory proposes that a cultural landscape approach be adopted for grading and heritage resource management in the Valley. The study recognises that the upper mountain crests and slopes are part of the Table Mountain National Park, which is a Grade 1 heritage resource but is currently under the jurisdiction of Heritage Western Cape.
This report proposes that:
- Three core areas of the historic farms in the valley be accorded grade 1 heritage resource status. Included in these areas are a number of previously declared National Monuments, which are currently Provincial Heritage Sites. Under the past legislation, National Monument status gave protection to individual buildings, groups of buildings and relatively narrowly defined sites. The report recommends that much larger areas be recognised as heritage resources of quite outstanding national (and potentially international) significance, in order to contextualise the notable historic buildings and other sites which are expressive of all those who produced these environments, inclusive of slaves and others who were dispossessed under apartheid.
- The existing grade 2 Provincial Heritage Sites (the old National Monuments: Tokai Arboretum; Tokai Manor House; Goedgeloof on Avenue Provence; Bergvleit Homestead; Church at Porter School; Timour Hall; Van Riebeek’s Almond Hedge) be selectively somewhat expanded in extent and eight other sites be accorded this grading: Bel Ombre; the ‘Malay’ Cemetery on Spaanschemat River Road; the Islam Hill site and Kramat; Morningside on Forest Avenue in Tokai; the Parish Road Cemetery; Rust en Vrede; Schoenstatt Manor House; and the Witteboomen Homestead.
- The significant parkland and green-belts that are an integral part of the character of the valley be accorded grade 3a status and be protected accordingly.
- In the order of 60 other sites are proposed as grade 3a or 3b.
- About 19 sites are proposed as of grade 3c because of their contribution to the historic character of the valley, while a small number of further sites comprising notable architecture of more recent date are also so proposed.
From the outset and following the example of the indigenous Khoikhoi, the European settlers and slaves at the Cape were dependent on the availability of local materials. A limited amount of building materials, such as hard timber and tiles, were imported from Madagascar, Mauritius, the East Indies and the Netherlands.
Sun-dried bricks were produced to build walls, trees on the slopes of the mountains were felled and hand-sawed into beams, rafters, doors and window frames, while the readily-available reeds of the Cape fynbas was used as thatching material. The Cape Iimekilns were filled with shells from the beaches or, further Inland, with limestone to produce time for building purposes. Bamboo was planted to supplement the shortage of timber for construction purposes.
Some of the characteristic elements of the Cape vernacular architecture were established during the visit to the Cape in 1685 of a High Commissioner of the DEIC who gave instructions to the then Governor that all new buildings of the Company at the Cape had to be constructed with local stone at least up to window-sill height, had to be plastered and then whitewashed to protect it from the notorious Cape winter weather (there was not enough timber available to produce hard-baked bricks) and low walls were to be built to connect buildings to create an enclosed farmstead that resembled a Dutch "hofstede".
Following the prosperity that the 18th century brought to the Cape, farmsteads, originally simple and basic utilitarian, acquired gables - the earliest dated from the mid 18th century. Many of the 63,000 slaves and political exiles brought to the Cape prior to 1815 were skilled craftsmen and women and were instrumental in the development, interpretation and decoration found in the Cape's vernacular architecture, reflecting the cultural diversity and unique stylistic influences of Africa, Europe and Asia. In most cases structures have the personal signatures of unknown individuals who meticulously worked on the elements that make up the whole - sometimes sophisticated, sometimes naive.
The Cape vernacular architecture even triggered a Revival Cape Dutch movement during the 20th century throughout Southern Africa.
Buildings of Interest
The development of the historical architecture of Constantia is linked directly to the development of the old farms, some of which were developed in the area as early as the late 17th century. None of the earliest structures remains; the existing historical buildings on the farms were built over a period of some 200 years, from the mid-18th century to the early part of this century.
The farm complexes with early buildings still remaining are Steenberg, Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Hoop op Constantia, Alphen, Nova Constantia, Buitenverwachting, Tokai, Dreyersdal and Bergvliet. These have retained many of their 18th century architectural characteristics and stand out as the most significant precincts in the Constantia and Tokai valley. With the exception of Alphen, the homesteads on these farms are all single-storey gabled thatched roofed buildings. Seven of these early homesteads are U-shaped, typical of the early Peninsula houses. Together with the homesteads, the wine cellars and other outbuildings, werfs, walls and gates, bell structures, cemeteries, water channels and ponds, etc., make up the historical built environment. Moreover, in addition to these built elements, the old trees around the buildings, the vineyards and fields, and the avenues which lead up to the homesteads are all significant landscape elements.
Rust en Vrede and Sillery are examples of later thatch roofed homesteads. Rust en Vrede was probably built early in the 19th century and is particularly interesting as it is reputed to be the only surviving E-plan house at the Cape. It is one room deep and has hipped side and half hipped end gables. Sillery appears to be a mid-19th century house, similar to those built in the 1840s in suburbs such as Rondebosch. It has an elongated rectangular plan with a hipped thatch roof with dormer windows.
The homesteads on the farm complexes Witteboomen, and Oude Raapkraal near Steenberg, are interesting examples of early 19th century farm complexes which were substantially altered late in the 19th century. The other buildings on these farms also date mainly from the late 19th century. Other typical features of these farms are the water channels, bamboo groves, ponds, old walls and entrance gates.
Mount Prospect, near Groot Constantia, is the only surviving example in the valley which is intact of a late-19th century complex. The homestead is a typical Victorian villa with projecting bays at each end of the front facade, and attic rooms lit from sliding sash windows in the projecting gables. The outbuildings are typical barns with corrugated iron roofs.
Unlike other suburbs in the Peninsula, there was no large scale urban development during the Victorian and Edwardian period, nor any significant development or urban infill during the 1920s or 30s. However, there are some isolated Victorian and Edwardian and later buildings of significance.
These include two large houses, Glendirk and The Chilterns, which were designed around the turn of the century by Sir Herbert Baker on the Wynberg ridge overlooking Alphen and the Constantia Valley. He also designed Morningside (c.1903) in Tokai which was later restored by the architect Forsyth after a fire. They are typical of the work done by Baker's office, with gabled facades, teak joinery with brass fittings, and panelled interiors. Both Glendirk and Morningside originally had thatched roofs. Other large houses built during this period were the present Hohenhort Hotel (1906) which was designed by the architect Seeliger to replace the 17th century farmhouse on Klaasenbosch and the two-storey Edwardian mansion built on High Constantia in 1902, which is now the main building at the Schoenstatt Convent.
Timour Hall and Belle Ombre are particularly interesting examples of the changes which were made to earlier buildings during the Victorian period. Both houses have early plan forms with later additions. They are both Victorian in appearance because of the typical Victorian joinery and other details. Belle Ombre has an interesting timber verandah around the house and unusual fireplaces. The smaller Victorian\Edwardian Villas of architectural interest are Vita Nova (c.1900) in Tokai, and Barbarossa (1908) in Constantia.
Apart from these grander Victorian and Edwardian buildings, there are still a few pre-1915 cottages in the valley. Some examples can be found on Eagles Nest and along Constantia Nek Road. Particularly interesting are the Bloekomlaan Cottages in Tokai, which are of various types. These range from a corrugated iron cottage in its original state and in good condition to villa types with stone plinths and verandahs. Another example of a corrugated iron cottage is to be found on Chart Farm.
There are a few buildings of interest in the area dating from the period 1920 to 1940. Most of these are farmhouses. Some examples are Balmoral (c.1919), Glenugie Farmhouse (1933), and Zonnestraal (1938).
House Pentz, Serenite, and Chart Farm are examples of houses built during the 1940s which may be considered historically interesting at a future point in time.
Apart from domestic architecture, there are also some religious buildings, cemeteries and institutional buildings of interest. The Moslem community was displaced after the Group Areas Act was enforced, but the Mosques, Kramats and burial grounds are still in use in the valley and are significant cultural elements in the landscape. The Kramat at Islam Hill was designed by Kendal. The Parish Road cemetery is the largest, and is also clearly of cultural significance in the valley. Many small historical cemeteries and burial grounds which can be seen on old Maps and Diagrams attached to Deeds of Transfer have not survived or are in a neglected condition.
The institutional buildings of interest include the Porter School (with a building by Baker), Constantia Boys Reformatory (including an old gaol dating from the Boer War), the Constantia Girls Reformatory, and the Old Gaol on Pollsmoor.