Dutch architecture in South Africa you can still see today

It’s easy to spot Dutch architecture in the Cape of South Africa thanks to these two nations’ long and complicated history. But of course, these buildings also have an African twist.

The Dutch colonial connection with South Africa, in many ways, shaped the multi-cultural demographics that this African nation has today, producing, for example, the Afrikaans language.

But perhaps what is lesser known is the architectural legacy that the Dutch settlers left in South Africa, which you can still see today. 🏠

Wine estates with Cape Dutch Architecture

South African wine is world-renowned, with the hills and valleys of the Cape providing the perfect landscape and climate for excellent grapes.

A typical Cape Dutch wine estate near Cape Town. Image: Pixabay

Many of these farms were established in the 1600s by retired Dutch East India (VOC) employees — Dutchmen tired of the merchant life and ready to settle down under the warm African sun. 

This style is known as Cape Dutch architecture, in which you can see the Dutch influence in the facades and roofs of the buildings.

Of course, these are wider than the skinny Amsterdam houses you’ll find in the Netherlands and were painted white to help keep them cool under the baking heat.

The Dutch fort in Cape Town

The Dutch East India Company built Kasteel de Goede Hoop (Castle of Good Hope) in what is now Cape Town. Built between 1666 and 1679, the castle is the oldest surviving building in South Africa. 

But, this was not the first military structure built by the Dutch here. In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck, commander of the first wave of Dutch settlers, built Fort de Goede Hoop upon arrival in the Cape.

However, Dutch settlers built the fort with just clay and timber, so plans soon were made to build the stone castle that still stands today.

Notice the star shape typical in other Dutch forts, like Fort Bourtange in Groningen or the fortified town of Naarden in North Holland. 

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The restoration of this site has been controversial over the years. The castle represents colonial powers which drove the Khoekhoe people from their homelands and forced many to become serfs on Dutch farms.

On the other hand, many Afrikaans people see Jan van Riebeeck as a founding father of South Africa.

Dutch-inspired Stellenbosch University

Below is an image of the old administrative building of Stellenbosch University (SU), which perhaps reminds you of a certain government building in The Hague?

Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Image: Dfmalan/Wikimedia Commons/CC3.0

In 1679, the Dutch Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon van der Stel, established the town of Stellenbosch, naming it after himself and the bos (forest) that stood there.

But, it was only in 1866 that the gymnasium, known as Het Stellenbossche Gymnasium, was built. Later on, it was transformed into Stellenbosch University. 

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Stellenbosch is the oldest university in South Africa and is consistently one of the highest-ranking universities in Africa. The Times Higher Education (THE) 2023 ranked SU at 251 in the world and second in Africa for the same year.

Fishermen’s cottages in the Eastern Cape

These humble homes along the eastern coastline of the Cape are simpler than the grand wine estates we saw earlier. The natural harbours drew Dutch fishers to the area, who built settlements such as Struisbaai.

Fishermen’s cottage in South Africa. Image: Pixabay

Struisbaai has the longest beach in the Southern Hemisphere at 14 kilometres long. It was a notoriously hazardous area to sail through, with at least 30 vessels wrecking there since 1673.

Today, Struisbaai remains a fishing town mostly untouched by over-development.

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Looking at the houses, you’ll see echoes of traditional Dutch cottages but again painted white for the heat. Thatched roofs also help to keep the interior cool.

Bo-Kaap colourful houses

Can you see the Dutch influence in these houses? Image: Freepik

Bo-Kaap (meaning above the Cape in Afrikaans) is a residential area in Cape Town with a history as colourful as the houses here. It sits on a hill overlooking the city centre.

It was formerly known as the Malay Quarter because enslaved Asians brought from Indonesia and Malaysia by the Dutch lived here. 

The houses are a mixture of Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian styles and were originally painted white. But when slavery in the British colonies was abolished in 1833, and ex-slaves were finally permitted to buy property, they painted these houses in every colour of the rainbow to celebrate their freedom.

Today, Bo-Kaap is seen as the birthplace of Cape Malay culture, with 56.9% of its population being Muslim as of 2011.

According to the South African Heritage Resources Agency, this is the oldest surviving residential neighbourhood in Cape Town. It was declared a National Heritage Site in 2019.

Whilst South African architecture is certainly unique, the Dutch influence is undeniable. These are just a few of our favourite examples of Dutch architecture in South Africa, but there are, of course, many more!

Do you know any more examples of Dutch architecture in South Africa? Tell us in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2021 and was fully updated in May 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Emily Burger
Emily Burger
Emily grew up in South Africa but has also lived in Egypt, the UK, Canada and now the Netherlands. She first came here for her Bachelors in Arts and Culture at Maastricht University and soon fell in love with the land of canals, clogs and cheese. When she's not daydreaming about sci-fi movies or countries yet to explore, you can find her writing for DutchReview.

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