History of Stellenbosch

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The Story of Stellenbosch

There is a lot more to this lovely town than award-winning wines and magnificent scenery. Stellenbosch boasts a rich and colourful history. The town also boasts grand architecture, internationally renowned artists and one of the best Universities in the country.

Growth of the town
Stellenbosch is the oldest town in South Africa besides Cape Town. When Simon van der Stel traveled east in 1679 and was struck so much by the beauty he saw that he named the area ‘van der Stel se Bosch’ after himself. The name literally means ‘van der Stel’s bush. (Simon’s Town near Cape Point was also a victim of his egocentric place-naming policy)

Khoi farmers used Stellenbosch as a grazing land for their cattle but were forced out after the establishment of the town by the European settlers. It was forbidden to trade with them and they were regarded with great distain by the colonialists.

In 1680 a few families were allowed to settle on the land on the condition that they would not plant tobacco. A governing body had to be established in 1682 in order to settle land disputes and in 1685 Stellenbosch was declared a town. The residents were so proud of their new town that the first church and school house were completed by the very next year.

In 1688, French Huguenot settlers planted the first grape vines and soon established a thriving wine-making industry. Stellenbosch wines have won countless awards globally and many of the original vintages are still made using time honoured traditions of the wine-makers art.

The town became a military base for the British during the second Anglo-Boer war and many of the local ‘Hottentots’ (as they were called by the burghers at the time) were drafted into the army, much to the consternation of the locals who feared an uprising of armed “Hottentots”.

Major-General James Henry Craig, who was the acting military governor stationed there at the time remarked:'Nothing I know would intimidate the Boers of the Country more ...' (than a Hottentot Corps). By creating political division between the burghers and ‘Hottentots’, Major-General Craig hoped to strengthen British rule in the Colony and prevent an Afrikaner rebellion in the area.

Since then the town has grown into a thriving community. The University of Stellenbosch is known to be one of the best in the country. The large student population ensures the availability of a great selection of nightclubs and cafes.

Interesting characters

First governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel:

A spring festival was held every year on the 14th of October in honour of the birthday of the founder of the town. Simon van der Stel started an oak planting project in the town and the results may be seen today. Magnificent old trees line the main road of the old town providing shade and beauty for everyone.

Stellenbosch tobacco magnate, Anton Rupert:

Anton Rupert was an Afrikaner who played a vocal roll in his open opposition of the apartheid government. He was wealthy and powerful enough to be invulnerable to the bigwigs that intimidated smaller men into silence or prison. He was an entrepreneur, a businessman and a conservationist and created, through his various companies, almost half a million jobs since 1981. Anton Rupert was also a founding member of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund).

Anton Rupert lived most of his life in Stellenbosch and died there in January 2006 at the ripe old age of 89.

Architecture and Art
The first houses were simple longhouses made from local materials. Over the years more elegant dwellings were built as the economy of the area grew. Stellenbosch now boasts one of the richest collections of period buildings in South Africa including some of the oldest original Cape Dutch buildings, Victorian architecture and modern designer homes.

The art scene in Stellenbosch boasts literally dozens of artists and crafters from portrait painters to quilters, ceramicists to goldsmiths. The many galleries in the town showcase a wide variety of work by local artists as well as international names. In such a beautiful setting it is inevitable that great art will be born.

The University of Stellenbosch
The university was established in 1863 and is directly descended from the original schoolhouse which was built in 1686.It is a participant in the Beyond Grey Pinstripes listing which comprises international schools that incorporate social and environmental stewardship into their MBA programs.
The University’s social initiatives also include a subsidised Management Program for Non-Profit Organisations and a fund for academically deserving post-graduate students.

Stellenbosch is a fascinating place to visit even if you aren’t a wine connoisseur. The friendly atmosphere and great beauty of the area make it a wonderful getaway from the hustle and bustle of Cape Town while the student night-spots and cafes ensure that you will always be thoroughly entertained. Stellenbosch is undoubtedly one of the best reasons to visit the beautiful Cape.


About The Author:

Villa Grande offers luxurious guest house accommodation in Stellenbosch. The guest house is situated in the historic centre of the picturesque Cape Winelands.

Contact Niel today to find out more about visiting Stellenbosch .