Paarl is the third oldest European Settlement in South Africa. Today it is home to a very culturally diverse community, the product of its unique history.
The people of Paarl are descendants of the Khoisan, African-, and Eastern slaves, Dutch, French Huguenots, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italian Prisoners of War, and Xhosa migrant labourers.
The Khoikhoi and San were the first people to utilize this area. San rock art can still be seen at nearby Wemmershoek and Bainskloof.
What is today known as Paarl Mountain, used to be called Tortoise Mountain by the Khoikhoi.
The Berg River Valley formed the traditional border between the Peninsular Khoikhoi (the Gorachoqua and the Goringhaiqua) and the Cochoqua. The latter group moved their cattle around the various grazing areas of the Berg River- and Drakenstein Valleys.
The Cochoqua was one of the richest and strongest of the Khoi tribes and had between 16 000 and 18 000 members. The Cochoqua were defeated during the second war between the colonists and Khoikhoi and most of their livestock were looted.
After the deaths of their leaders, the rest of the tribe dispersed. Some trekked towards the Orange River and others started working for the colonists.
The original purpose of the Dutch settlement in the vicinity of latter day Cape Town was to provide fresh food and water to the ships of the Dutch East India Company, on their way to the East. Jan van Riebeeck built up fresh meat stock by bartering livestock from the local Khoikhoi.
In 1657, Abraham Gabbema led an expedition, to find more Khoi groups to barter from and to search for the legendary treasures of Monomotapa. On the day that they arrived in the Berg River Valley, the granite boulders, towards the west side of our town, glistened in the sun after some showers. This inspired Gabbema to promptly name this mountain the Diamond and Pearl Mountain from which the name Paarl was later derived.
In October 1687, 30 years after the Gabbema expedition, Governor Simon van der Stel granted the first farms to free burghers. Twenty-one of these farms were in Drakenstein (Paarl), and five of them were at the foot of Paarl Mountain.
In 1688, the French Huguenots arrived in the Cape and some of them were given property in the Drakenstein area.
One of their most important influences was of course their knowledge of the wine industry. Today the headquarters of the South African wine industry, the KWV, is to be found in Paarl. It is situated on one of the earliest farms (La Concorde, as it is known today) to be granted by Governor Simon van der Stel.
The European idea of private land ownership clashed with the traditional communal land use of the Khoikhoi. The farms that were granted to the free burghers and Huguenots, used to be grazing for the livestock of the Khoi.
Access to water also became limited and the wild animals that used to be hunted by die Khoisan quickly became scarce.
European diseases, such as small pox, further decimated the indigenous peoples. Many of the Khoisan were forced to move into the interior or became labourers, working for the colonists.
Between 1658 and 1808 63 000 slaves were imported to South Africa from many different parts of the world such as Gambia, Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Indonesia, Batavia (Djakarta) and the Spice Islands.
Slaves had to sow, harvest, and thresh the wheat. On wine farms, they had to harvest and press the grapes. Slaves also had to load wagons, weed their owner's fields, and look after the farmer's livestock.
The women did housework and in some cases acted as wet nurses for their owner's children. In the country female slaves also had to work as farm labourers.
Het Gesticht (a a small unbaked brick church) was built in 1813 to provide slaves with a place of worship. From 1820, onwards it became known as the Zion Church. Het Gesticht is the fourth oldest church building in South Africa amd located in Main street close to the Strooidak Church.
After the slaves were emancipated in 1834, the freed slaves in Paarl received some property in the vicinity of Berg and the later School Streets.