Weltevreden: The house that Piet built

2014-02-10 09:46 - Selene Brophy
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What was meant to be a weekend spent checking out this homestead's delightful children's carnival and play facilities - turned out to be the discovery of an authentic piece of SA’s back story instead…

Don't get me wrong. The Carnival on the Weltevreden Estate in Stellenbosch, a 40-minute-drive from Cape Town, is a real find.

Parents wanting to sit back and enjoy a meal or even plan that special birthday party for their young ones should head here. I’d say the venue is best suited to kids under 10-years-old.
The staff will take care of all the finer details and you’re allowed to bring your own themed cake – which means you can avoid the energy-sapped, hungover state that usually follows a children's party.
Weltevreden’s Carnival even has child-minders watching your little ones on the intricate play areas that may at times have them pleasantly out of sight but always front of mind as you hear their gleeful chirping. Parents, you are encouraged to tip them generously.

Playtime fun

But after a day of exhaustive play for the kids, you could forego the journey back to the city and hole yourself up in a rather historical monument, as I soon discovered.

Although, I'd say this ingenious renovation of a building, declared a national monument in 1975 and subject to strict regulations, is not entirely kid-friendly (note: my two boys are under five-years-old).

The intricate gables with the Wagon Wheels on either end. (Selene Brophy, News24 travel)

It requires a steep ascent into the roof and has beautiful gabled, wide-open windows on either end, looking out over the homestead - which is currently also being developed into a romantic haven for those favouring a winelands setting for their nuptials exchange. 

According to the homestead’s records, one of the pioneers or Voortrekkers behind the Great Trek, Piet Retief had a hand in some of the buildings still found on Weltevreden. The property was purchased by his sister, Deborah Retief and her husband, Christoffel Esterhuysen in 1812 from Sybrand Vermeulen - their initials can be found moulded into the back gable plasterwork.


Weltevreden's official national monument status. (Selene Brophy, News24 Travel)
Records also state the Great Trek was being contemplated as early as 1812 and that the wagon wheels reflected on the gables of the Main building was a public demonstration of the voortrekker's ambition to head into the interior of southern Africa in search of establishing their own homeland, independent of the British rule at the time.

Which got me thinking – as individuals, how much do we really know about the back stories that have shaped what it means to be a South African today? And I mean deeper than what was taught to us in school. Khoi-San, Xhosa, Zulu – merely the tip of a vastly diverse people.

Sitting beneath an aging oak, a crispy glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand, I looked up at the decorative gables complete with its historic Wagon Wheels said to be testament to the growing discontent of the time, which included the abolition of slavery and the poor arrangements made to compensate these former slave owners.

I found it quite remarkable that this oak was perhaps there as part of the forethought of the founder of South Africa’s oldest town, Simon van der Stel.

The additional play area outside the estate's restaurant Lekker Ne' (Selene Brophy, News24 Travel)

According to town records, Van der Stel decreed that all Title Deeds included a clause which called upon the owners to preserve the timber on their farms. The owners were forbidden “to cut timber along the river except on his own land, with the express command to plant young oaks and other trees in place of the cut timber".
There I sat, imagining the engineers behind the Voortrekker movement sharing the very same space planning their future. I sat pondering the winelands history and the liberating power of empathy that forms the fabric of a constitution that has set South Africa apart as the country it is today.

Records provided by Weltevreden also state Piet Retief’s father, Jocubus Retief, had a slave (name not recorded) who was a first-rate builder, who was hired out to neighbours or relatives. It is assumed that this slave also built part of Weltevreden.

And what a beautiful piece of architecture, I soon discovered while being given a tour of the main house - also part of the Weltevreden accommodation.

An arrow-straight view can be seen from the driveway to the homestead (this literally makes you stop and stare upon entering the estate), all the way through the front door, past the living area and clear out the back door to its orchard trees. It really is something special to see and surely an easy design to do today with computer engineered plans. But back then? Wow.

The peaceful entrance strikes you front and centre

Below is a diagram of the cellar gable of Weltevreden. The “H” shaped Cape Dutch house, with six elaborate gables are said to be in the Cape Flemish style with a crown motif at the top.

(Drawings provided)

And while the basic fabric of the house remained intact, taking a sideways glance at the window panes easily reveals the warped state of original panes. Remarkable to look through something fashioned back in the 1800s.

This image does not even come close to displaying the perfect symmetry. (Selene Brophy, News24 Travel)

Towards the end of the 1980’s the house had become quite dilapidated and Weltevreden is now nearing the end of a 9-year restoration project.

And it's ingenious of our age that I can send you on the above link fest if you really do want to know a bit more about the Vootrekker history, but even more profound that you can day-trip to experience something of significance in living colour.

You see, I have yet to learn a better way of preserving the future than by looking well into the past - if only to learn from its mistakes and gain a better sense of self.
At least that's how I'd like to build my house ...

For more info contact banqueting@weltevredenestate.com or visit their Facebook page - Weltevreden Estate

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