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Notes on the Geography of South Africa: Paarl

Yes, Paarl means Pearl.

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South Africa: Paarl picture 1

The name comes from this granite dome, called Tortoise Mountain by the pre-European Khoisan herders, the Gorachouqua. Darwin came by in 1836, drawn by the wealth of proteas, ferns, and creepers.

South Africa: Paarl picture 2

A scenic loop makes it easy to climb the mountain and look across to the Cape Fold Belt range. Its highest peak, in the approximate center here, is Hu Toits Peak, 6,500 feet. Lady Grey Street, the old commercial center, is a dark diagonal line in the center of the image; off to the right the white spire of the Dutch Reformed Church pokes up above the red-tile roofs of the Gymnasium.

South Africa: Paarl picture 3

The name Cape Fold Belt may suggest pleasant hills. Not quite.

South Africa: Paarl picture 4

Mountains hardly get more rugged than these.

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Back down in the valley, here's Lady Grey on a Sunday; on other days crowds hide its sad sameness. As for Lady Grey, she was the wife of George Grey, a popular governor of Cape Colony in the 1850s.

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There must have been something in the water in the 1950s; all the pioneer buildings had to be torn down and replaced with boxes called modern.

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Who shops on Lady Grey? Mostly it's Paarl's Blacks, who live in an extensive area of decrepit apartments.

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Affluent shoppers, mostly White, likely go to the Paarl Mall.

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Too depressing? Fine. Come back up the lower slope of Paarl Mountain and behold the vineyards, tidy as golf-course greens.

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An irrigation pond. The industrial zone mostly belongs to KWV, a major producer of wine and brandy. (That would be Kooperatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Africa.) The whitish area to its right is the Paarl Mall.

South Africa: Paarl picture 11

Here, surrounded by grapes, is the house called Laborie en Picardie. The name is French because the settlers were Huguenots who had been vintners before they were forced to emigrate. They received a land grant here about 1691 and within a year or two had planted 10,000 vines.

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The rear facade has been spared the modernization of the front.

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The gable is dated 1800, but the house is much older.

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From the entrance hall. No, you can't get these panels at Lowe's, not even on special order.

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Another farm and homestead, this one called De Hoop, or "Hope". The land was granted in 1692 but the house is from 1809. Note the trellises on the far right and left.

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Another view of the same trellises, with Paarl Mountain behind.

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Another view.

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This one is Goede Moed (yes, "good mood," but closer to "optimistic"), with a house dated 1818.

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Most of these homesteads take guests.

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Unlike many towns of the Western Cape, Paarl was unplanned and grew very slowly around this church, which was rebuilt and dedicated in 1805. It is known either as the Grasdakkerk ("grass-roof church) or, more commonly, as the Strooidakkerk ("thatched-roof church"). The sun at the top is capped by the words Sol Iustitiae Illustra Nos, or "Light of Justice Enlighten Us".

South Africa: Paarl picture 21

The interior now is nothing to write home about, but the pulpit is fine, from 1838.

South Africa: Paarl picture 22

The cemetery has a collection of gabled tombs, built on the principle that you can take it with you.

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Do not disturb.

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"Here quietly rests the remains of Gerhard Vanderby, during his life elder of the community of Paarl and Drakenstyn, [who] died on 23 April 182? at the age of 66 years."

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It took almost a century before the church had a town around it. Here's the roller-coaster gable on a nearby house on De Jongh Lane.

South Africa: Paarl picture 26

Here's a simpler one, restored in 1982 with thatch and a split or halved door. There's a long, long, stoep, with end seats at either end.

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The town acquired Victorian touches, too, such as this one, now a home for the aged. The name means "pleased."

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Klein Vredenburg, a home of Georgian sobriety.

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Zeederberg Square, named for a doctor.

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Fransen calls it "the best example of early Victorian town-house design in the Western Cape."

South Africa: Paarl picture 31

The exotic Gymnasium was designed by the Reverend Gottlieb van der Lingen, who was determined to defend Dutch against the invasion of English. Among his projects was this private school, established in 1857 and built without funding from the government, which insisted on English-medium instruction. The curriculum consisted of ancient history, classical languages, and English, and one of its early graduates became the first professor of Afrikaans appointed at Stellenbosch University.

South Africa: Paarl picture 32

The design is not Afrikaner, unless you define African broadly enough to include Egypt. Perhaps van der Lingen did. The design details are his.

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