Stellenbosch holds the honour of being the most well-known town in South
Africa. History, culture, natural beauty, sport, education and wine has
made the name “Stellenbosch” resonate around the globe as one of South
Africa’s premier tourist, wine, business and education attractions.
The recorded history of Stellenbosch
dates back to 1679 when this name was given to a small island on the
Eerste River by Simon van der Stel, the then governor of the Cape. It
can, however, be assumed that prior to its official naming, the
Stellenbosch surrounds were home to various indigenous communities.
The Eerste River, which today still
ripples through Stellenbosch, was so named as this happened to be the
First (‘Eerste’) river the Dutch settlers came upon after leaving their
Cape Town base.
After its discovery, Stellenbosch was
quickly identified as an area in which to settle, with great potential
for agriculture. The surrounding areas proved rich in soil and correct
climate for producing vegetables to sustain the ships passing by the
Cape of Good Hope en route to the other Dutch colonies in the East. Add
to this the thirst of the Dutch and other settlers that necessitated the
making good wine, Stellenbosch soon saw its hills and valleys also
planted to vines along with other agricultural crops.
That skilled vintners were sent to the
area and the vines bore wonderful fruit is proven in the fact that, to
this day, Stellenbosch remains world-renowned for the quality of its
wines, with the vine being by far the region’s most prominent
With the rich agricultural pickings,
the early settlers soon established a bustling town. The earliest
building in the Stellenbosch area dates back to 1689 and can still
be viewed on the historic wine farm of Muratie. In the town itself,
solid, white-plastered buildings arose and the streets were planted
with oak trees, giving it the name Eikestad (Town of Oaks), which is
still used to describe the town today.
Besides its rapid growth in becoming a
centre for the flourishing wine industry, the foundations for
Stellenbosch’s heritage as an educational centre were laid in 1859 when
a theological seminary was established. In 1918 a university was
founded, and to this day the University of Stellenbosch remains an
internationally recognized education centre and one of the leading
universities on the African continent. It is also one of two learning
centres in South Africa that trains fledgling wine makers – the other
being the Elsenburg Educational College outside Stellenbosch.
Although Stellenbosch has seen rapid
residential and commercial growth over the past few decades, the heart
of the town still resonates with an historical atmosphere and cultural
allure. The buildings reflect over three centuries of occupation,
including Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture. A myriad of
museums and places of interest are found along the oak-lined streets.
And the crests of the dramatically rising mountains that encircle the
town – namely the Stellenbosch, Jonkershoek and Simonsberg mountains –
are always visible.
Besides its status as a leading
cultural, education and leisure destination, it is wine that has made –
and continues to make – Stellenbosch famous.
A variety of soils and locations ideally suited to flourishing of a wide
variety of grape cultivars, has seen Stellenbosch continue to dominate
the South African wine scene in terms of quality. With the growing
acceptance of South African wines globally, Stellenbosch remains at the
forefront of growth in the wine industry.