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Thursday, February 9, 2017

12/5: Cape Town: Groote Kerk and Castle of Good Hope

As I mentioned in my previous post about our visit to Cape Town's Signal Hill, public reminders about safety in Cape Town were frequent. There were a number of these 'Stash It, Don't Flash It' signs in the central business district, the city's term for the downtown area, where we had come to visit Groote Kerk (Afrikaans for Great Church) in the hope it was open this time.
Across from the slave tree on Church Square was the entrance to the Gothic-style Groote Kerk, a Dutch Reformed church and South Africa's oldest place of worship, built by Herman Schuette in 1841. 
I was very surprised to read that there is probably no building in South Africa that is better known than the Groote Kerk.
Jan van Riebeeck brought the Reformed religion to the Cape and the practice of this religion played an important part in the lives of the pioneer community. From the beginning of the settlement, Van Riebeeck’s ship, the Drommedaris, served as the first church on South Africa's shores. The first Sunday service at the Cape was held on board on April 14th, 1652.

After settlers landed, provision was made for a hall in which religious services were held. The hall soon became too small as the population expanded, so a timber shed was converted into a church in 1678 by giving it a stone floor and a front gable. Over time, the flat roofs of the extended corners of the church constantly leaked and required costly maintenance. The condition of other parts of the building also gave cause for concern. There was no alternative but to demolish the entire building except the steeple and the vestry. It was replaced by the present building in 1841, but the original tower was retained.

The signs at the church entrance were in Afrikaans, a West Germanic language spoken in South Africa, Namibia, and to a lesser extent, Botswana and Zimbabwe. According to Wikipedia, "Afrikaans evolved from the Dutch vernacular of South Holland spoken by the mainly Dutch settlers of what is now South Africa, where it gradually began to develop distinguishing characteristics in the course of the 18th century."
The entrance was unusual as it didn't lead directly to rows of pews with a pulpit and the nave at the far end like most of us would be used to. Rather, people entered from the side seeing a long dining-style table first with a few pews on the left side that faced across to the main pews and pulpit. I wonder if that is a feature common to Dutch Reform churches?

Against the side walls of the church, hanging up behind those pews, were 25 mourning boards of high ranking people as it was the general practice in those days to hang them up in the church after the funeral. The copper collection basins at the doors, bought in 1840, were later replaced with velvet collection bags.
A view above the side entrance of the stark but beautiful windows and ceiling.
The 'traditional view' of a church with pews on either side of a center aisle:
The enormous pulpit, made from wood brought from the Dutch East Indies, was consecrated in 1789.The pulpit stood on the identical spot where the first church's pulpit was located in 1704. The immense anchor in front of the pulpit represented hope.
The pulpit rested on the shoulders of two lions, superbly carved from stinkwood, that supported a wreath of leaves with one paw while the other paw rested on a parchment scroll. 
The stones or tablets built into the floor of the church were of Batavian saltstone and they were remarkable because they change color according to weather conditions! During stormy weather, the stones get darker and they get lighter when the weather clears. I had never heard of that happening before and wonder if that only occurs with Batavian saltstone or other types of stone as well.

It was a little spooky to find out that approximately 200 people were buried under the floor including eight governors. 
The organ, with nearly 6,000 pipes, is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. One of the most interesting features of the church was the enclosed pews, each with its own door. Prominent families would buy them so they wouldn't have to pray with the masses!
A parishioner, who also volunteered as a guide, mentioned that the pews are now open for anyone. He also talked briefly about the simplicity of the city's Protestant churches compared to the city's far more ornate Anglican and Catholic churches. He added that hardly any alterations have been made to Groote Kerk during the past century and a quarter, except that the buildings on either side of the church have disappeared. 
The adjoining Clock Tower that dates to 1704 was all that remained from the original building. 
A tombstone set into the church's external wall:
We drove next to the Castle of Good Hope. Despite its name, the Castle wasn't the fairy tale fantasy type but rather the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa that has been the center of civilian, political and military life in the Cape since 1666. In 1664, when there were renewed rumors of war between Britain and the Netherlands, the Dutch feared a British attack on the Cape and subsequently built a five-pointed stone castle, calling it the “Kasteel de Goede Hoop”. 
 Built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679, it replaced an older fort called the Fort de Goede Hoop which was constructed from clay and timber in 1652. The building of the Castle itself was done by soldiers, sailors and slaves who built the walls with local stone brought from Robben Island.
The purpose of the Dutch settlement in the Cape was to act as a replenishment station for ships passing the treacherous coast around the Cape on long voyages between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and to protect its logistical and financial interests along the 'spice route' with a military presence. The Castle was a welcome sight for sailors traveling up to six months at sea and referring to Cape Town as the "Tavern of the Seas".
In 1936 the Castle was declared a historical monument (now a provincial heritage site) and, following restorations in the 1990s, it is considered the best preserved example of a Dutch East India Company fort.
Originally located on the coastline of Table Bay, the Castle is now far away from the sea, located inland following land reclamation. The gateway, built in 1682, replaced the old entrance, which faced the sea.
In 1683, a new entrance to the Castle was created moving stonework from around the old sea entrance to the new entry and building a bell tower above it using imported yellow Dutch bricks called 'klompies.' 
Inside the entrance's split pediment was a lion holding seven arrows representing the United Provinces of the Netherlands and surmounted by a crown.
During the Cape Town Military Tattoo, an annual event that takes place at the end of the year, military bands, precision drills and a Naval Cadet gun run are featured. 

Because the castle is built on Khoi ancestral land and has been occupied for several hundred years, a Cleansing Ceremony takes place in the Inner Court to make the Castle a positive space for all.

The Bell Tower was completed in 1683 though the bell, cast in Amsterdam, was added in 1697. The bell was rung on the hour not only to indicate the time, but also in times of danger, fire and funerals. It is still rung on special occasions.
We weren't able to see all the exhibits at the Castle because workers were setting up for the country's President's visit two days later. However, we had free reign of the place and were able to wander wherever we liked at the Castle with no questions asked. That would certainly not be possible if the US President were about to visit any facility.

Governor's cellars: When Governor Simon van der Stel built a house for himself in the Castle, he also made sure to add extensive cellars in the basement to store his wine. The arched door to his cellars had been bricked up over the years until it was opened and restored in the 1980s.
Behind the Governor's quarters was a two story, private area with a colonnade for his assistants' offices and a square pool with a dolphin fountain in the center.
Coach house and stables: Throughout the 19th century, coaches and carts were stored in one of these vaulted rooms; the other two were used as stables.
Old Well: This well, about 26 feet deep, was at the center of the Bastion, and the point from where the five bastion points were originally set out. When a wall was built across the Castle courtyard in 1691, it covered the well though it was kept as a source of water. It was operated by hand pumps.
"Over the centuries, six different flags have flown over the Castle, yet in all that time not a single shot has ever been fired in anger at it or from it."

The moat, which previously formed part of the defense system of the Castle, was completed in its final form shortly after 1720. During the mid-19th century, the mountain stream that filled it was diverted to private homes' bathrooms and the moat became a ditch into which the city's sewers were emptied. In the early 1900s, the moat was filled with topsoil and gardened by the City Council. When the Castle was restored in 1990, mountain water was diverted into the moat again. Its green water sure didn't look like it had come recently from any mountain stream though!
This strange looking structure was called a ravelin, a triangular fortification located in front of the inner works of a fortress. The triangular ravelin, which protected the Castle entrance, was completed soon after 1720, at the same time as the moat. Three 24-pound guns were mounted on the ravelin as a first line of defense against enemy attack on the Castle.
I read that the Castle now stands not only as "a reminder of Cape Town’s colonial past, but as a beacon of the city’s future." Art and photography exhibitions are often hosted within its five walls, as are some of the city’s premier commercial events.
We saw a number of soldiers at the Castle safeguarding the facility in honor of its history. As the Castle is the seat of the military in the Cape, it housed the Castle Military Museum and Iziko Museums of Cape Town. It was moderately interesting to get a glimpse of life at the Cape during the 17th and 18th centuries but the Castle of Good Hope wasn't a city sight I would suggest others visit unless they have fully explored the other, far more fascinating sights in the city.

Posted on February 9th, 2017 from Littleton, Colorado.

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