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constructed by local workers and slaves, many of whom hailed from different, far-flung shores of the Indian Ocean. The interior of these manor houses often look quite similar: large, rectangular, voluminous rooms filled with honey-coloured stinkwood cupboards; imported china; beds so high as to keep the jumping fleas away, and funny hall clocks with clock faces that show a laughing sun chasing a tight-lipped moon across the sky, or a fisher with a rod pulling out fish from the grachts of Amsterdam. The strict interior setup, with every piece of furniture in its fixed place, often stands in contrast to the exterior aesthetic. The ground plan of the manor houses can resemble different letters of the alphabet, such as an I, a T, or an H. Buildings may come in one-, two, or three-storey designs. And the historic gables, the most striking element of what we have come to associate with Cape Dutch architecture, show such a splattering array of accelerating curvatures, spiralling volutes, interspersed with the more serene rectangular form, that each one of them is unlike any other. One of the oldest existing Cape Dutch gables, built in 1756, survives in Klein Joostenberg, near Stellenbosch. Other wellpreserved examples of these manor houses can be found at Morgenster and Vergelegen estates near Somerset West, as well as at Lanzerac, Boschendal, and Nederburg. In their impressive grandeur, many constructions were erected without the constrictions imposed by builder’s guilds and their often stringent laws and regulations. Each example of Cape Dutch architecture reflects the technical skills and concepts of feasibility and beauty of a small group of people. Not unlike lighthouses along the coastline, these whitewashed farmhouses stand as bright beacons near waves of green vineyards, which, in autumn, transform into striking reds.

Going retro Cape Dutch architecture has evoked a sense of nostalgia ever since Cecil Rhodes and his generation promoted the earlier colonial times as a model for the future of South Africa. By renovating several

Cecil Skotnes’ carved wooden wall panel completed in 1977 on show at Irma Stern Museum and other venues. old Dutch farmhouses to previously unknown splendour, and by designing lush gardens around them, Rhodes set a lasting trend for Cape Dutch revival. His architect Herbert Baker, who had declared Cape Dutch residential architecture to be “the most beautiful in the world”, spread its unique style across the land. Suddenly it became en vogue to raise political edifices in Pretoria, and suburbs in Johannesburg, with Cape Dutch elements. After the bitter experience of the Anglo-Boer war, the new Union of South Africa demanded national symbols, and the Cape Winelands provided ample material. The early Dutch colonisation served South Africa’s new sense of identity. Few examples show this transformation more strikingly than that of the Groote Schuur estate, the former homestead of Cecil Rhodes that still serves as the official residence of South Africa’s president. Built by Herbert Baker on the foundations of a barn house from Van Riebeeck’s time, Rhodes had the entrance to his new mansion decorated with a bronze relief showing Jan van Riebeeck receiving supplication from the indigenous population upon his arrival at the Cape. Rhodes, as Great Britain’s imperial visionary, felt inspired by the Dutchman’s colonisation. In some ways Rhodes helped create a romanticised concept of Van Riebeeck’s legacy and of Cape Dutch architecture, and triggered a renewed interest in “The Winelands”, which has lasted until today.

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words bernard franz

021 Reader’s Giveaway: Stay tuned via


2/21/11 5:38:34 PM


021 reader’s Giveaway: Stay tuned via Cecil Skotnes’ carved wooden wall panel completed in 1977 on show at Irma Stern Museum and other venue...