Constantia Valley History
The beautiful Constantia Valley takes its name from the farm granted to Simon van der Stel in 1685 by Commissioner van Rheede. It is said that Governor van der Stel named his property after Constanza, the little daughter of his benefactor. We know the entire area now as Constantia. The Governor planted orchards and vineyards.
When van der Stel died in 1712, the farm was subdivided, first into two, Groot Constantia and Bergvliet and then again into Hoop of Constantia and Witteboomen. Alphen was never incorporated because van der Stel died before this could happen. From 1714 Olaf Bergh and his beautiful wife, Anna de Koning, farmed at Groot Constantia and others followed.
In 1778 Hendrik Cloete acquired Groot Constantia. The estate belonged to his family for more than a hundred years, until the devastating phylloxera epidemic in the 1880s forced its sale to the government.
Hendrik was responsible for the house, as it is today and the cellar with its pediment depicting the story of Gannymede – a gift from his friend Anton Anreith. Lady Anne Barnard describes a wedding at Groot Constantia when Hendrik asked her to dance – "… but I would have soon thought of frisking it with Table Mountain" She goes on to describe the women present who "plenty of fat and a fine large colour they think it has the air of riches and contentment. …The Dutchmen caught hold of the women promiscuously and kissed them heartily – the women seemed to think it was good fun and were not angry. Terrified at what might be my lot next I crept behind a window curtain"
In 1718 Hoop of Constantia passed into the hands of Johannes Colyn, a gifted winemaker, whose family retained it until 1857, producing some of the finest Constantia red and white wines.
The Eksteen family owned Bergvliet from 1769 until the end of the 19th century when it was subdivided. The British forces advanced over the Eksteen farm amongst others after the battle of Muizenberg when they took over the Cape settlement. They encountered resistance from Eksteen who supported Napoleon and defiantly waved a French tricolour at the advancing British troops.
When Napoleon was defeated and confined on the island of St. Helena, his household was constantly supplied with the Constantia wines which were also relished by his British conquerors.
At the southern end of the Valley was the farm known as Tokai, granted in 1792. A branch of the Eksteen family acquired it ten years later and engaged the architect Thibault to build a manor house characterized by a high front stoep.
It is said one of the Eksteen sons rode his stallion up the steep steps and into the dining room for a wager on New Year’s Eve. On the way out the horse stumbled, frightened by the sound of the slave bell ringing to herald in the New Year. The boy fell and broke his neck. Many people have told of hearing the sound of revelry, a bell ringing and seeing the ghost of the rider and his steed at midnight on a still, warm New Year’s Eve.
At the opposite end of the Constantia Valley stands Alphen, with its classically elegant manor house and wine cellars set around a grand "werf" or courtyard. Descendants of Hendrik Cloete have owned it since 1854. The Cloetes bought it from the Dreyer family. (They were related to the Eksteens).
One of the Dreyer daughters was said to be attractive and one day she had two visitors, Captain Josias Cloete and a small redheaded army doctor, James Barry. Barry had a fiery temper and challenged Cloete to a pistol duel supposedly because he was paying too much attention to Miss Dreyer. Both missed, probably intentionally, as they were life-long friends. Barry had an almost celebratory skill as a surgeon and performed the first cesaerean section in South Africa on Hester Anna Munnik. The baby was called James Barry Munnik and his descendant today still bears that name. The story that has intrigued historians is that James Barry was discovered on her death to be a woman who masqueraded as a man all her life.
During the 17th and 18th centuries others arrived at the Cape, brought against their will. These were Muslim slaves from the east and slaves from other parts of Africa brought to provide the hard labour and craftsmen necessary for building the emerging settlement, as many of the indigenous Khoi had fled to the interior. The men from the east were often leaders of their communities, who had come into conflict with the Dutch and Portuguese. On the 13th May 1668 a ship arrived at the Cape with three prisoners in chains. They were men of wealth and influence and care was taken that they were not left at large as they were likely to do injury to the Dutch East India Company (VOC). One was sent to Robben Island and the other two, Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah, the last of the Malaccan sultans and Sayed Mahmud, a spiritual and religious leader of the Malaccan Empire, went to the Company’s forests in Constantia. Their tombs or Kramats, part of the holy "circle of Islam" around the Cape may be found at Summit Hill and at the gate of the wine estate, Klein Constantia.
There are many links between the old Cape families. A young American visitor to Bergvliet in 1834 teased her hostess, Mrs Eksteen, who was a Cloete before her marriage, that "for many miles around in every direction there is noone but Cloetes and Eksteens". The lives of the farm-workers and owners, the Muslim community and others were equally intertwined. It was only in the mid twentieth century when the farms began to be broken up because of encroaching urbanization and farm-workers and others were moved to "coloured areas" that the bonds were mostly broken.
Some descriptions of the Valley
A visitor to the Valley, Francois Valentyn reported "incomparably large and delicious fruit" Later, Captain Cook’s botanist, Anders Sparman who was living at Alphen at the northern end of the Valley, said, "The genuine Constantia wine is undeniably very racy and delicate dessert wine and has something peculiarly agreeable in the flavour of it"
He, like so many residents and visitors to the Valley across the centuries, climbed the mountain to the west. He described in his diary: "From this spot, however, I had an agreeable summer prospect towards the bottom of the mountain, viz. the verdant plains lying round about it, enlightened and warmed by the genial rays of the sun"