of the French Huguenots brought wine cultivation and the Indonesians brought
When King Louis
XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, providing religious tolerance in France,
many Huguenot (protestant) refugees made their way to Holland. The Governor
of the Cape, Simon Van der Stel requested that any individuals with wine
farming experience be provided passage to his settlement. Roughly 200 arrived
and set out to establish the wine industry. The Cape Dutch style owes much
of its existence to the French Huguenots for bringing with them contemporary
European design ideas and incorporating them into farmsteads.
design styles, lifestyle, food and religion of the Malay slaves played
a major role in the cultural and architectural development of Cape Town.
These influences today are an integral part of society. The Cape Dutch
style also owes much of its existence to these artisans who designed many
of the structures and built them without a single blueprint or plan.
The Cape flourished
as French, English, Danish, American, Portuguese, Austrian, Spanish, Swedish
and Prussian ships filled the harbor. Provisions prices doubled, tripled
and doubled again; the local farmer was doing well for himself. As more
and more immigrants arrived to stay, the population growth became increasingly
demanding on the natural resources. Shortly all of the timber within wagon-haul
had been cut. The bricks being locally produced weathered badly and importation
of building materials from Europe was not financially viable; the round-trip
to Amsterdam took a year, and such a voyage might take a third of the crew’s
lives. So, in 1778 the first exploratory mission up the Indian Ocean on
the east coast of Africa was organized. The journey proved sailors’ tales
to be true. The great forests of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay had enormous
trees thrice as high as a ship’s mast! It wasn’t long before Yellowwood,
Stinkwood and Ironwood were made available for beams, door-panels, ceiling
and floor-boards, as well as for furniture.
was a great and final contribution to the Cape by the Dutch East India
Company. By 1780, Holland was declining as a Maritime power. Consequently,
foreign ships, paying the local farmer’s high prices, outnumbered the Dutch
three to one. The Company was heading towards ruin and in 1793 became insolvent.
The Cape’s future was uncertain.
Knysna and Plettenberg forest discoveries, Britain and Holland were at
war (1780-1783). A British fleet sailed to take ownership of the Cape but
was attacked and disabled by the French. As a result two French regiments
arrived in the Cape. One of the men, Louis Michel Thibault, a Parisian
architect, decided to make the Cape his new home. During his lifetime,
he contributed significantly to Cape Dutch architecture and his name is
attached to many exquisite buildings including the gables (not part of
the original construction but added later) to Groot Constantia, the lions
at the Castle and the magistrate in Tulbagh.
Over the next
30 years, rule at the Cape changed hands numerous times and was finally
fought for and won by the British. In 1814 the Cape Colony formally belonged
to Britain. Cape Town continued to grow as a port and became known as the,
‘Tavern of Seas’ for all passing vessels. Outside of town, villages formed
around churches. The majority of Cape Dutch buildings were erected during
this time. As the 19th century progressed so did the economy and in turn
the ornate manner of the homes and specifically their gables. Cape Dutch
style flourished for the remainder of the century before losing its popularity
to neo-classical architecture.
of a Style
motive for the existence of the Cape was agricultural. Produce and cattle
were farmed to supply passing ships and the employees living at the Dutch
East India’s provisions stop. Consequently, homes were needed for the farmers
and merchants. Built strictly out of necessity they were initially very
basic and small. Using the humble materials available; roofs were made
of wild reeds, indigenous wood was used for frames and support beams while
the walls were clay, thick rubble or burnt brick. Sea shells provided the
basis for lime-motor and floors were often made with compacted peach pips
or left earthen.
technology and a low availability of local materials, building was limited.
This resulted in basic structures being only 6 meters wide and having a
consistent roof pitch of 45 degrees. In order to build larger homes, buildings
were extended in Northern European longhouse fashion. This is one of the
reasons why many consider Cape Dutch Architecture to be based on Northern
European style. However, the most distinctive and uniquely defining characteristic
of Cape Dutch Architecture is the central dormer gable. There is no other
style that can claim this prominent feature as theirs. Each Cape Dutch
building has an individualized gable with consistent features including;
date of construction, molded decorations and a prominent centralized location.
It was in the first half of the 18th century that the gables began to appear
in their variety of styles and decorations. They were created largely by
the Malay craftsmen and the completely non-European carvings indicate this.
As the economy
and population grew in the Cape so did the ornate manner of gables, the
size of the homesteads and the value of materials used. It was the gable
however which came to represent the financial wealth of the settler. The
signature social status of wealth, of ownership, of individuality, of dominance
and power over the landscape and social structure is what gables came to
represent. The approximate date of a building can be surmised at first
glance of the central gable. The more elaborate the design work, the later
the date of construction. Gables can also be classified chronologically
in order of their development; earlier gables of the late 1600’s and early
1700’s were Lobed or curvilinear before moving into concave or convex shapes.
Followed by transitional styles and finally in the late 1800’s into Neo-Classical
style, before their demise.
A Cape Dutch
homestead is of course more than the sum of its central gable. The early
Cape houses were built very symmetrically. At the front, the central door
was the builder's focal point and on either side, equally spaced, were
two half-windows with two or four full-width windows. Most homes had a
room at the entrance, rooms on both sides and a back room. The kitchens
had open fireplaces and a Dutch oven fitted with iron bars to hold cooking
pots. In town, chimneys were ruled out because of the threat of fire.
By the mid-18th
century as prosperity increased so did the elaborate nature of homes. Gables
became more ornate and the size of homes increased. Homeowners began to
add wings onto both ends of their basic structures. The result was the
U-plan. At about the same time, the T-plan was evolving in the rural areas.
This model had a single wing, with the kitchen at the end and was attached
like a tail to the centre of the basic building. Later, another wing was
added at right angels to the T and parallel to the original building creating
ultimate design in country houses, the H-plan.
architectural transformation, materials changed as well. Floors originally
made of peach pips or compacted earth started to be covered in Robben Island
slate, shutters were crafted to protect windows and stronger wood like
ironwood was used in construction.
still, outbuildings began to appear. These included a jonkershuis (house
for the eldest son), stables, a coach-house, slaves' quarters and a wine
cellar. A wall typically encircled the whole farmyard. Often farms were
magnificently placed against mountain backdrops and surrounded by agricultural
lands presuming a ceremonial quality. Arriving at gateposts which mark
the beginning of a tree lined avenue, following beneath the canopy towards
an opening in a white, waist high wall to reach a set of stairs leading
onto a porch and front door beneath a uniquely molded gable. This is the
experience of entering a Cape Dutch home. It remains the very same as it
has for hundreds of years. A relentlessly symmetrical front, sensible floor
plan, additional wings forming a U, T or H shape, reed thatch roof, white
washed walls, raised stoop and a gable; these are the defining characteristics
of a Cape Dutch home.
buildings that stand as a testament to the skill and strength of the Cape’s
past also carry secrets. Who built them? Who designed them? There is a
certainty that a few men, notably, Louis Michel Thibault from France, Anton
Anreith, a young sculptor and woodcarver from Germany and Hermann Shutter,
a young architect and builder also from Germany, contributed much to the
Cape Dutch style and the development of the settlement. However, the truth
is that most of the architecture of the period is anonymous.
of the 18th century led a patriarchal existence: farms were isolated, communications
incredibly slow; and communities did all the work required to keep a farm
going, including building. Wealthy farmers often had a staff of artisans
which included masons, smiths, wagon-wrights and cabinet makers. These
men were both free as well as slaves and were sent to neighboring farms
to construct buildings. This system would account for identical gables
on different homesteads and the ‘home made’ construction results. It is
not uncommon for a Cape Dutch building to have unleveled floors, door and
window frames. There is very little to indicate who built most structures.
This unique style owes much of its elegance and grandeur to the unknown
of the Cape Dutch Style began in the 1840s. With the introduction of spine
walls it became possible to construct wider buildings. Homesteads were
facing erosion intensified by the porous brick walls and flammable thatch
roofs. Open hearths in kitchens combined with the infamous southeast wind
were the cause of many destructive fires especially in towns. By the end
of the 18th century many of Cape Town's thatched and gabled dwellings had
vanished. Flat roofed and often double storied houses began to appear.
Today there are only about 400 intact original Cape Dutch homesteads left
in South Africa.
southern South Africa one is guaranteed to encounter Cape Dutch Architecture.
There is no escaping the dark reed thatch roofs with the white washed walls
set against the sea and mountains. The style of these buildings is as unique
as their locations. In the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town, less examples
of the style exist however, they can be found. Inside an old church a centuries
old altar designed by Louis Michel Thibault stands. There are museums,
art galleries and offices sitting in-between Art Deco and contemporary
neighbors waiting to be stumbled upon. Yet, it is outside the city bowl
where the majority of Cape Dutch architecture is found. Simon Van der Stel’s
famous farm, Groot Constantia is a half hours drive south of the city centre.
Arriving beneath the tree lined avenue to approach the manor house there
is a feeling of having slipped back in time. The rolling lawns, Table Mountain
as a backdrop, grape vines stretching out in straight lines, the beautiful
Cape Dutch buildings and a glass of uniquely South African Pinotage; days
like these are the reason people stay in the Cape forever. To the North
of Cape Town are villages and wine estates with many fine examples of Cape
Dutch Architecture. The Boland is one of these areas. Its perimeters are
unclear but can be loosely defined by the fruit and produce farms in the
area. At the furthest reach of the Boland nestled in-between three mountain
ranges lies the town of Tulbagh. Home to 32 Cape Dutch National Monuments
- on one street! The little town hosts international guests all year long
in centuries old guesthouses and nourishes them with local gastronomic
delights. Stellenbosh, Paarl and Franshoek, famous for their internationally
acclaimed wines, Cape Dutch farm homes, delightful estates and decadent
food like an Ostrich fillet basted in a wild fig sauce with waterblommetjie
accompaniment. Unfortunately, waterblommetjie can only be described as
tasted so, only a trip to the Western Cape Province will provide a satisfactory
Hottentots mountain range, across rolling hills and flat plains reaching
out to the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, the southern most tip of the African
continent is home to the oldest city in South Africa. Today, this international
city protects its past through architecture and invites travelers and adventurers
from all over the world to visit and if they love it enough, to stay. Over
300 years ago, a population of less than 10 000 created their own architectural
style; Cape Dutch. Dominating the area for more than 200 years, the white
washed walls and gables topped with reed-thatch continue to be admired
and replicated for their distinctive characteristics. The story of Cape
Dutch Architecture is one of ingenuity, of beauty and of making-do. It
is the story of the little provisions stop that did.
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