By Bobbi Gerber
Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in South Africa (after Cape Town), was founded in 1679 by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon van der Stel, who named it after himself. Stellenbosch means “Van der Stel's Bush”. It is situated on the banks of the Eerste River ("First River"), so named as it was the first river he reached and followed during an expedition over the Cape Flats to explore the territory towards the area now known as Stellenbosch.
The town grew so quickly that it became an independent local authority in 1682 and the seat of a magistrate with jurisdiction over 25,000 square kilometres in 1685. Situated in the Western Cape and nestled among the magnificent mountain scenery of the Jonkershoek valley, it is probably best known as a “student town”, being one of the most popular university campuses in South Africa.
Close to Cape Town and the sea
An attractive feature of this picturesque town is that it is comfortably close (50km) to the Mother City. Sun seekers and visitors benefit from the close proximity to several beautiful beaches. The active nature lover can enjoy the hiking trails in the surrounding mountain ranges.
Town of oaks and canals
Stellenbosch has become known as 'the town of oaks' and for obvious reasons: the streets are laced with these trees, of which some have been proclaimed national monuments. It was the first settlers who planted the oak trees. Houses were built of locally available material, with thick walls, doors and windows made of local indigenous woods such as yellow-wood and stinkwood, and roofing of black thatch. The houses were finished with white-lime wash. The handmade furniture of these early settlers is extremely sought after by collectors.
When Governor Van der Stel first visited the area in November 1679 he was enchanted by its beauty and natural resources. There was ample water from the river and the streets were lined with furrows. The Dutch were skilled in hydraulic engineering and they devised a system which brought the water to every house. A water mill was erected in what naturally became Mill Street.
The mountain ranges overlooking Stellenbosch from the north marked the limits of a new world, little-known to the outside world. Beyond these borders lay a great expanse of unexplored land. To control the hunters, explorers and pioneers intent on penetrating this inviting interior, a magistracy was established in 1685, and for the next century had authority over an interior without geographical limit. While Stellenbosch functioned successfully under the law, order and the tax collection of the day, there was nothing but wilderness north of the town.
Each year on his birthday Simon van der Stel visited Stellenbosch and celebrated by presenting a fair with shooting competitions, feasting and games. There he would meet the hunters, adventurers, traders and others attracted to this gateway to the unknown.
In 1710 a fire destroyed most of the town, including the first church, all the Company property and twelve houses. Only two or three houses were left standing. When the church was rebuilt in 1723 it was located on what was then the outskirts of the town, to prevent a repetition of the tragedy. This church is currently known as the "Moederkerk" (Mother Church).
In the early days of the Second Boer War (1899–1902) Stellenbosch was one of the British military bases, and was used as a "remount" camp. Officers who had not performed satisfactorily at the front were sent back there, which led to the expression "to be Stellenbosched". It stuck firmly so that even if officers were sent to some other place, it was still said that they had been “Stellenbosched"!
Stellenbosch had a total population of around 155,733 in 2011, not counting students. (The University currently has about 29,000 students.) This estimate is based on formally housed residents. This number is probably understated, as the Stellenbosch region also includes a number of informal settlements. The population of Stellenbosch is primarily Afrikaans speaking (70%), with English (10%) and Xhosa (20%) speaking minorities. The black population mostly speaks Xhosa while the coloured population (mixed-race and Khoisan descent) is primarily Afrikaans speaking and comprises 50% of the population.
Summers are dry and warm to hot, with some February and March days rising to over 40 °C (104 °F). Winters are cool, rainy and sometimes quite windy, with daytime temperatures averaging 16 °C (61 °F). Snow is usually seen a couple of times in winter on the surrounding mountains. Spring and autumn are colder seasons, when daytime temperatures hover in the twenties.
Viticulture and winemaking
During 1690 some Huguenot refugees settled in Stellenbosch, grapes were planted in the fertile valleys around Stellenbosch and soon it became the centre of the South African wine industry. The Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek valleys form the Cape Winelands. The South African wine industry produces about 1,000,000,000 litres of wine annually. Stellenbosch is the primary location for viticulture and its research. The Stellenbosch Wine Route is a world-renowned and popular tourist destination.
About Stellenbosch | iinfo TZANEEN