South Africa’s Goldest Oldest Placesby Cea Swart on 31 May 2018
The goldest and oldest of things in South Africa stand the test of time and, to date, tell us about our country’s rich history. From the oldest city and building to the oldest pub and theatre ─ South Africa definitely has a few secrets and stories to be discovered by you. That’s why TravelGround delved into the past of our beloved country to point out all of the historic landmarks and places you simply have to visit!
The Mother City is the oldest city in South Africa and therefore boasts many of the oldest places and buildings. Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) braved the Cape of Storms by ship in 1652 and it initially served as a stopover when travelling from the Netherlands to the East. Only a few years ago Cape Town was voted as the top destination to visit in the world by the New York Times ─ definitely not simply a stopover anymore! Cape Town has it all ─ mountains, oceans and the hustle and bustle of a big city!
Fun Fact: The city’s motto is Spes Bona, which is Latin for ‘good hope’.
Sleep in the Mother City: Cape Town
This beautiful fortress in Cape Town was built by soldiers, volunteers, the Khoi and slaves between 1666 and 1679. The castle was built in the shape of a pentagon, surrounded by a moat right where the shoreline used to be and served as a replenishment station. Today, tours to the dungeons, torture chamber and underground tunnels will send chills down your spine. While above ground, public and private events are hosted where the church, bakery, living quarters and workshops used to be. Statues of former heroic kings Cetshwayo, Langalibalele, Sekhukhune and Doman stand tall as reminders of their rebellion against the VOC’s colonial military oppression.
Fun Fact: The Castle of Good Hope is built from granite obtained from Signal Hill and the yellow walls were to reduce the heat and glare from the sunlight ─ much needed to protect our pale European friends!
Stay like a king or queen, close to the castle: The Castle of Good Hope
This lovely garden was established in 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck as a vegetable garden to serve hungry sailors on the spice route. Recently, the vegetable garden has been revived, and the park comes alive with people, squirrels and birds visiting the restaurant, rose garden, aviary, fishpond, Japanese garden and statues. The park is surrounded by buildings, such as the Iziko Museums (including the Slave Lodge) National Library of South Africa, the Holocaust Centre, Houses of Parliament, St George’s Cathedral and the Tuynhuys often used by the President ─ a whole day can be spent here!
Fun fact: Only a single perky pear tree still remains from the original garden.
Make your bedding close to these gardens: The Company’s Garden
Modjadjiskloof in Limpopo has the widest baobab in the world! It has been estimated to be nearly 1700 years old, 22 metres high and 47 metres in circumference ─ well worth its appearance on the front page of the Wall Street Journal! After a 1000 years baobabs become hollow, that’s why the farm owners started to remove the compost and found flooring a metre below ground with evidence of the Bushmen and Voortrekkers! The owners of Sunland farm, the Van Heerdens, then converted it into a tree bar! It has been a home to many animals, birds and a local watering hole to visitors from afar.
Year: 318 AD
Sad Fact: At 04:00 on 13 April 2017 this big giant toppled over.
Plant your bags close to this marvellous tree: Sunland Big Boabab
Port Elizabeth Opera House was built on an old gallows in 1892 but don’t let that spook you ─ rather come and enjoy one of their ghost tours by torchlight! At first, candles and limelight were used to light up the theatre and only 16 years later they started to use gas lights. This theatre was declared a National Monument in 1980 and stands as the oldest theatre in the Southern Hemisphere! It recently underwent a face-lift but kept its character as the only Victorian theatre left in the world. Book your tickets for the dance production, Flamboyance, or take your kid to see Peppa Pig Live in SA this coming June!
Fun Fact: When the theatre opened it was recognised as ‘the finest theatre in all the world’.
Act as if you’re living close to the theatre: Port Elizabeth CBD
The Pig and Whistle Inn
It wasn’t an easy task to decide on the oldest pub without a clear definition of a pub but The Pig and Whistle Inn in Bathurst, Eastern Cape, got the title as the oldest continuously licensed pub in the country! It dates back to 1832, when a settler called Thomas Hartley built it as Bathurst Inn. This was at a time when Englishmen of the lowest classes fled to the newly founded Cape Colony. In later years the inn was renamed and the building is now a National Monument. Come and eat at its restaurant, have a drink at the pub, or shop for antiques!
Fun Fact: A recent addition to the pub is a whiskey bar that’s open over the weekends ─ perfect to drink like the Englishmen of old.
Don’t drink and drive, sleep close to the pub: Bathurst
Oldest Rugby Stadium
DHL Newlands was built in Newlands, Cape Town in 1890, making this stadium the oldest in South Africa and the second oldest in the world. Throughout the years it underwent many renovations. Today, it’s called DHL Newlands for sponsorship reasons and has a capacity of 51 900 people. The intimate seating, food and beer stalls, and breathtaking view of Table Mountain makes it one of the best rugby stadiums in the world!
Fun Fact: The first official match was played on 31 May 1890 when 2 400 people watched Stellenbosch beat the Villagers in very muddy conditions. Archives only mention that the game was won by “one goal and a try”.
Don’t sit in traffic along with 51 899 other people, sleep close to the stadium: Newlands Rugby Stadium
Oldest Wine Estate
This beautiful estate was founded in 1685 by Simon van der Stel of the VOC. He brought his knowledge and love for wine to the Cape. This estate was either named after the daughter of the man who helped him obtain the 763 hectares of land, a VOC ship, or the Latin word meaning ‘steadfastness’. This beautiful Dutch Renaissance manor house is surrounded by a vineyard. Slaves used to work here with 70 000 vines and produced 5 630 litres of wine in one year! Be sure to try the world famous Grand Constance when you come for a tasting. You can also enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants or visit the museums on the premises.
Fun Fact: Groot Constantia’s wine appears in Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility as “the cure for a broken heart”. It’s also in Charles Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood where it’s written that “the wine is drunk to lift a character’s spirit” ─ so come and cheer up at Constantia!
“Wine” not stay here, close to the estate? Constantia
When walking in the beautiful Church Street in the heart of Stellenbosch, you’ll pass the Oude Werf Hotel. Don’t let the modern decor fool you ─ this hotel is the oldest in the country! ‘The Old Yard’ was originally built as a church under the instruction of Simon van der Stel in 1686 and it eventually burnt down in 1710. It was revived as an inn but again burnt down in 1802. It was then rebuilt again and burnt down some 80 years later. Finally, in 1973, it was restored and hasn’t suffered the same fate for a fourth time. The hotel has a beautiful terrace where meals can be enjoyed and a swimming pool to lounge around.
Fun Fact: To this day, a preserved historical graveyard from the original structure can be visited underneath the hotel’s kitchen.
Sleep in the heart of Stellenbosch.
This Dutch Reformed Church in Cape Town is the oldest Christian congregation and today it serves as its headquarters. Willem Adriaan van der Stel laid the foundation stone of this beautiful church in 1704. The original building had structural problems and had to be replaced in 1841. The clock tower, as seen from Parliament Street, remains as a time capsule of the original structure. There are two historical church bells that ring true to our history of being a colony, one bell is from the VOC (1726) and the other from Britain (1800). The church is located on Church Square near Adderley Street, and guided tours of the church are available on request. The Groote Kerk houses the largest organ in the country ─ it has about 6 000 pipes!
Fun Fact: The floor stones are recycled headstones and the dome ceiling is the largest unsupported domed ceiling in the Southern Hemisphere.
Hear the church bells from your bedroom when you sleep here: Groote Kerk
Oldest Movie House
The unfortunately named Labia Theatre is the oldest Independent Art-Repertory Cinema in South Africa and now has four screens. It was originally an Italian Embassy ballroom opened by princess Labia in 1949. You truly feel like a time traveller when you see the old ticket booth, your hand ripped ticket stub, and the usher completely clothed in the original gear! The popcorn still comes in brown paper bags and you can conveniently spike your own slushy with gin or vodka! The Labia shows independent movies, foreign films, historical cinema and other art circuit films. The courtyard is often filled by acoustic live music and the coffee bar is fully licenced with a variety of drinks and snacks. Look out for deals with restaurants like Knead, Diva’s and Society Bistro where two basic meals and tickets will only cost you R110 to R150!
Fun Fact: In 2014, a crowd-funding campaign, ‘Help the Labia Go Digital’, helped the owners do exactly that! See the video supporting the cause here:
Some movies show at midnight, so don’t stay too far! The Labia.
In with the old and out with the new sounds more accurate when visiting South Africa’s oldest and goldest. This beautiful country was built on the shoulders of giants and a giant is not something you see every day! Be sure to add these historical places to your travel plan and book accommodation as close as possible.
Feature image: Pigeons explode from the Delville Wood Memorial in the Company’s Gardens by Islahaddow (Wikimedia Commons)