Paarl history and Travel information

Paarl, a mere 60 kilometers from Cape Town and less than an hour by car from the golden beaches of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, is renowned not only for its illustrious past and unrivaled scenic beauty, but also presents holiday makers an exciting tourist destination. Its is one of the oldest towns in South Africa and particularly known for its mountain or "Paarl Rock". The huge granite rock is formed by three rounded outcrops that make up Paarl Mountain and is the second largest granite outcrop in the world.

The town boasts a unique attraction in the fact that the foundations of a new language, Afrikaans, combined heritage of Africa and the European mother countries, were laid here. The Monument to the Afrikaans language on the slopes of Paarl Mountain, the Language Museum and the Afrikaans Language Route through Dal Josaphat are living memorials to this achievement.

Paarl's scenic splendour, with five mountain passes and magnificent surroundings, the Berg River majestically winding its way through and bringing life to deciduous fruit orchards and vineyards right up to the heart of the town, and luxuriant vegetation, provide sufficient incentive to pay Paarl a visit. Add to this the rich heritage of well preserved historic buildings scattered through the town, the large number of top-quality restaurants offering traditional Cape cuisine, accommodation for tourists in hotels and on farming estates, and the inevitable wine industry - and you no longer have an argument in favour of visiting Paarl but an obligation to do so.

As far as the Wine industry is concerned, Paarl boasts the headquarters of the industry in South Africa, the co-operative Wine Growers' Association (KWV) and the Paarl wine route. The KWV is a South African institution that over the years has acquired an international reputation because of its unique achievements and its imprint of quality on the industry.

Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve

Paarl is particularly known for its mountain or "Paarl Rock".  The huge granite rock is formed by three rounded outcrops that make up Paarl Mountain and is the second largest granite outcrop in the world and forms part of the Nature Reserve.

Few towns have been blessed as Paarl has with an area of unspoiled natural beauty at its doorstep.

The picturesque landscape of fynbos vegetation is dominated by massive rounded granite rocks set among ancient wild olives, rock candle woods and wagon trees.
The water in the storage dams contributes to the tranquillity. There are several viewpoints which offer panoramic views toward Table Mountain and the sea in the west and the Boland Mountains in the east.

A network of paths make it an ideal area in which to walk, within a few minutes of the bustle of everyday urban life.

Local schools have laid out the Klipkers Nature Trail for which a guidebook is available. The circular route starts at the Language Monument and takes roughly 2 hours.

Conservation of the indigenous plant and animal life involves among other things, eradicating exotic plants and implementing a program of controlled burning.

The Jan Phillips Mountain Road is kept in good repair, although not tarred, as well as the road leading to the Bretagne Rocks with its spectacular viewpoints.

On the plateau, roads are not intensively maintained, mainly to discourage motor traffic and to retain it as an unspoiled walking area.

Paarl Wine Route

The Paarl Wine Route is also called the 'Red Route' for its legendary red wines.

Cabernet Sauvignon, port and Shiraz wines have established Paarl's place on the global wine map and the region has repeatedly received international awards for these wines.

The Paarl wine district lies to the north of Stellenbosch, and is bordered by the town of Wellington to the north east, and the mountains of the Groot and Klein Drakenstein and Franschhoek ranges to the south east.

The Berg River, which rises in the high mountains overlooking Franschhoek, winds its way to the sea through an ever widening valley, flanked by the majestic Groot Drakenstein and Wemmershoek Mountains, on through Paarl and past Wellington.

This is the life giving artery of one of the country's major wine producing areas. The most important areas situated along the upper reaches of the river are: Franschoek, Groot Drakenstein and Paarl.

There are three main types of soil in the Paarl wine district: along the Berg River, which runs through the town of Paarl from the south to the north of the eastern sector, the vines are grown on the sandy soil of Table Mountain sandstone; on the mountain slopes around Paarl and in the south east the soil is decomposed granite; and in the north east it is Malmesbury shale.

The pH content in the soils of the Paarl district is low, as it is in Stellenbosch, and deep ploughing with liberal application of the agricultural lime is necessary during soil preparation.

The valley land requires supplementary irrigation in the hot growing season before the harvest, but vineyards on the eastern slopes, having better water retention, frequently need none at all.

The wine estates and cooperatives that are members of the wine route arrange tours for visitors and provide an opportuity to get to know the wine makers personally, to taste the wines and to purchase some of the excellent and great variety of red and white wines:

Wine cellars on the route are:
African Terroir, Anura Vineyards, Ashanti, Avondale, Backsberg Estate, Bernheim Winery, Boland Kelder, Coleraine Wines, De Zoete Inval Estate, Domaine Brahms, Fairview Estate, Frost Vineyards, Kleine Draken, KWV International, Laborie Estate, Landskroon Wines, Nederburg, Nelsons Creek Wine Estate, Perdeberg Co-op, Rhebokskloof Estate, Seidelberg Wine Estate, Simonsvlei, Vendome Wine Estate and Windmeul Winery

Paarl History

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.

European settlers
The Dutch:
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.

The French
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.

The Slaves
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.

Paarl Annual Events

As befits a town with a long and colourful history, Paarl annually offers a variety of attractions which have already established a local tradition.

With its abundance of sunshine in summer and water in winter, one would rightly expect many of these attractions to centre on sport and argricultural activities. And the large variety of Paarl Accommodation options, make it easy for visitors to stay over and attend.

Paarl indeed has no shortage of sporting facilities and, on behalf of all its inhabitants, provision is made for athletics, cycling, rugby, cricket, tennis, badminton, hockey, netball, swimming, jukskei, judo, karate, bowls, golf, table tennis, squash and archery.

One of the most important events of the South African social calendar is the annual Nederberg Wine Auction. Scheduled for April, the Auction attracts wine merchants, collectors and socialites from all over South Africa, as well from overseas.

The Auction has become much more than a wine auction; it has developed into a highly enjoyable carnival with a fully-fledged fashion parade, interesting food and wine stalls and the opportunity to taste South Africa's top wines.

Every year in July, when the Cape is wet and the river flows strongly, hundreds of canoeists set forth from Paarl on one of the country's greatest and one of the world's most demanding canoe races, the Berg River Canoe Marathon.

The distance of more than 200 kilometers is completed in four successive days.

It is an unforgettable experience to accompany the canoeists on their frequently bitterly cold and wet expedition and either as a helper or spectator, to share in the fun at the overnight stops and the spectacular finale when the race ends at Velddrift of the West Coast.

A number of agriculturally based events and shows yearly offers exhibitors and spectators alike a glimpse of the leading role played in agriculture by the Winelands area - cheese festival, agricultural show, etc.

The annual duel between two of the Western Cape's top rugby schools, "Bois-haai" (Paarl Boys High School) and "Gimmies" (Paarl Gymnasium High School), as they are colloquially known, takes place in the first week of August in a test atmosphere.

Old Boys meet each other in a curtain raiser event, a big brag is held and a champagne breakfast arranged.

The Winelands Classic Golf Tournament is one of the top amateur tournaments in the country and is highly rated by golfers who have played on the Paarl Golf Club's magnificent course on the banks of the Berg River.

Top athletes and cyclists from all parts of the country participate every year in the Boxing Day Sport Event and spectators flock in from the Cape Peninsula and elsewhere to make of the day an unforgettable family outing.

Each year in February/March students of the College go into the streets of Paarl to collect money for local charity organisations.

The carnival parade consist of Drum-majorettes, Brass Marching Bands and students dressed up to the theme of the Carnival.

Paarl Architectural Styles

Paarl is considered a treasure chest of South African architecture.

The development of Paarl from its earliest times to today is reflected in the variety of architectural styles contained in its Main Street.

They range from the earliest Cape Dutch through to the elegant English styles, from the ornamental Victorian, to Art Deco giving the street its unique character.

Some of the most interesting buildings are:

Strooidakkerk (Thatched Roof Church)
In 1687 the first grants were given to German, Dutch and French settlers in the Paarl area but it was only after 1717, when the church was established here, that the town itself started developing rapidly.

Not withstanding its great simplicity, the interior of this church is exceptionally dignified.

The churchyard adjacent to an attractive garden encloses the biggest collection of gabled burial vaults in the Western Cape.

Zeederberg Square
Many artisans and merchants settled in between the farms along the 11 km stretch of Main Road - the longest Main Road in the country.

After 1806 the architecture was influenced by the British style of building which favoured larger windows, double storey buildings and slate roofs. Many Cape Dutch homes were converted to express the new fashion.

The latter half of the 19th century heralded major commercial development in Paarl. At the same time the flamboyant Victorian style became popular.

This is typified by the verandahs with their intricate cast-iron decorations, corrugated iron roofs and plaster mouldings. Once again the facades of many houses were changed.

Press Building
Described as a "Dutch Renaissance Revival" building and built in 1897, it has the intricate detail of an important Victorian building - decorative gables, Welsh slate roof, turrets and balcony.

Another feature is the white painted outlines of the bricks on a red background.

Zion Church
Zion Church was completed in 1842 after lengthy money-collecting schemes which even included collecting in England. It was restored in 1983 and is once again being used as a church.

191 Main Street
This gabled house dates back to 1790 and has typical yelow-wood ceiling and doors, thatched roof, casement windows and green shutters.

Town Hall
This imposing building was completed in 1928. The clean lines are accentuated by the pediment and bell-tower. The pillars are made of local granite and the whole building is painted white in contrast to the darker background of Paarl mountain.

The Oldest Building
As far as is presently known, Bethel in Mill St is the oldest surviving building in Paarl.

Reference to the house dates back to 1710 and the floor plan has not been altered since 1756, although the facade was later altered to attain a Victorian look.

Church Buildings
Among the other attractive church buildings in Paarl are the historic Holy Trinity (Anglican) Church in Main Street, the St Petri Lutheran Church in Mill St, the old Zion Church in Zion St, the Jewish Synagogue in Synagogue St, the Muslim Chapel in Breda St and the Toringkerk in Main St

The Old Parsonage (Ou Pastorie)
The Old Parsonage in one of the most significant architectural treasures of Paarl. This building, situated below the impressive Tower Church (Toringkerk) in Main St, was completed in 1786.

It houses the Paarl Museum including an exceptional collection of Cape Dutch furniture and Cape silver and copperware.

La Concorde
This impressive building in Main Street, head quarters of the KWV, was completed in 1958 and stands on one of the first five farms within the present urban area of Paarl, granted to the French Huguenots by Simon Van Der Stel.

Other buildings
Scores of other noteworthy houses and farms are to be found in Paarl district. The homestead at Nederburg was built in 1800 and was, until recently altered, the only historical house in the Cape which had survived untouched and undamaged.

In De Jongh's Lane are three fine examples of Cape-Dutch buildings and Rozenfontein in Main St possibly dates back to the mid-19th century.

Het Gesticht in Main St, Goedeverwachting, Huis Verening, the old WP Bank as well as the Laborie Homestead are among other buildings in Paarl worthy of a visit.

Other Attractions

  • Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve, especially noted for the enormous 500 million year-old granite rock (Paarl, Bretagne & Gordon) that gives Paarl its name.
  • The Afrikaans Language Monument, on the slopes of Paarl Mountain and the Afrikaans Language Museum situated in the town.
  • Treasure house of South African architecture along a 2 km stretch of the Main Street.
  • The Paarl Museum is a must for its Cape Antiques and contemporary exhibitions of Paarl.
  • The Ikhwezi Centre is the home to Bhabhathane weavers and artists from Mbekweni.
  • In the Arboretum there are 700 indigenous and exotic species of trees. A footbridge across the Berg River gives access to paved walkways on the river bank.
  • The Bird Sanctuary along the banks of the Berg River features 136 species of birds. Species include the beautiful Malachite Kingfisher, Maccoa Duck, African Marsh Harrier & African Fish eagle.
  • Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm
  • Butterfly World
  • Lion Park

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