Of Bygone Eras

Private Property South Africa
Anna-Marie Smith

This weekend’s hertitage day celebrations of ‘that which we remember’ highlighted the many forms and styles of heritage to be enjoyed at any time, any place.

For those whose interest is sparked by viewing heritage sites around the world, perhaps the most visual and convenient solution is armchair travel via the UNESCO World Heritage Centre’s website, where the historic wealth of numerous sites around the globe can be seen at leisure.

And when one’s preference lies in the rich experience of visiting historic sites that facilitate public walk-through’s of old buildings, the observation of fascinating designs of great historic value can be even more thrilling. So much light can be shed on the lifestyles and origins of communities of bygone eras when viewing old residences now declared heritage sites or museums. The historic character of houses and its previous owners is often depicted in displays of antique furniture, artifacts, domestic equipment and interesting gardens, from manicured and quaint to landscaped or natural.

Most large cities have historic houses open to the public, with many in convenient locations to visit when passing through. Cape Town’s many houses of historical value are located from the City to Boland towns of Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch to the Southern Suburbs of Constantia and Muizenberg, all located no further than an hour from the city and the airport.

At the Stellenbosch Village Museum complex four different houses and gardens depicting architectural and buildings styles of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries can be viewed. Each of the four houses, Schreuderhuis, Blettermanhuis, Grosvenor House and OM Bergh, represent a different period in the architectural development of Stellenbosch. With beautifully restored interiors and gardens, it makes for a fine illustration of typical homes of that era.

In the southern suburbs Groot Constantia Manor House and Wine Museum reflects elegant gable designs, with the most famous triangle gable in South Africa, created by the sculptor Anton Anreith and preserved in its original state. Also portraying the earliest years in the Cape is the Manor House, now a cultural history museum, with a superb collection of Cape furniture, porcelain and maritime art on display, dating back to between the 18th to early 19th centuries. The Cloete Wine Cellar on the estate that was built in 1791 has an interesting display of drinking utensils and artifacts.

Along the False Bay coastline is the historic town of Muizenberg, once a great attraction to wealthy city residents who built holiday mansions there as far back as 200 years ago. Many of these holiday homes were owned by "Gold Barons" who gained their wealth from the Gold Rush of the 1800's, and spent summer holidays by the sea. A number of residences here were designed by the famous architect, Sir Herbert Baker.

Also in Muizenberg is Rhodes Cottage with its fine indigenous mountainside garden once home to politician Cecil John Rhodes who bought it 1899 at the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War, and lived there until his death 1902. Another interesting building but with a European heritage and rich Italian character, is Casa Labia also known as the Natale Labia Museum. This stately old mansion was built in 1929 by Count Labia who was Italian Ambassador to South Africa, whose family still owns it and has re-opened it for public viewing.

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