The name Bloemfontein means “Fountain of flowers”. The flowery splendour of the 4 000 rose bushes planted at King’s Park earned the city the nickname “City of Roses”. The annual Rose Festival, held in October each year celebrates this unique feature of the city. The spring referred to in the city’s name still surfaces in downtown Bloemfontein. The Tswana name for the city, “Mangaung”, means “Place of the Cheetahs”, a reminder that this area teemed with wildlife long before man arrived here.
Bloemfontein is the sixth largest city in South Africa. When one drives through this cosmopolitan modern city, it is nearly impossible to believe that it started out as a humble little frontier town. Today the city offers the tourist excellent accommodation facilities, entertainment opportunities ranging from restaurants, art galleries, theatres and nightclubs to movie theatres and pubs and as an added bonus, a game reserve in the centre of the town. Bloemfontein is also renowned for its beautiful residential suburbs, stately old buildings and pleasant parks. The city boasts two excellent universities, a Technikon, several colleges, more than 50 secondary and over 100 primary schools and the renowned Glen Agricultural College.
Adventure And Sport
Air ventures: Bloemfontein has active flying and gliding clubs stationed at Tempe Airport.
Angling and water sport: Anglers have no less than four dams to choose from when planning an angling trip. These include Tierpoort Dam, south of the city on National Road N1, Rustfontein Dam, east of the city on the Thaba ‘Nchu Road, Krugersdrift and Mockes Dams at the Philip Saunders Resort. Krugersdrift Dam is situated in the Soetdoring Nature Reserve where fish such as yellowfish, Orange River mudfish, barbel and carp can be caught. Rustfontein Dam, in the Rustfontein Nature Reserve is an angler’s paradise where carp, barbel, mudfish and yellowfish can be caught. Visitors also enjoy water sport such as skiing, windsurfing and paragliding.
Bungee jumping: Adrenaline junkies can engage in some “high falling” antics at Loch Logan Waterfront.
Canoeing and windsurfing: Contact the Loch Logan Canoe Club at the popular Loch Logan Waterfront for “paddle” information. A two-day canoe route can be followed in the Soetdoring Nature Reserve. Krugersdrift Dam, in the reserve, is ideal for windsurfing and canoeing, as is Rustfontein Dam in the Rustfontein Nature Reserve.
4×4 routes: The Soetdoring Nature Reserve has several 4×4 routes and a Continental Academy for 4×4 enthusiasts.
Golf: The city has several excellent golf courses.
Hiking: Among the hiking trails and walks in the area are those at Tempe (Vallei van Sewe Damme Trail); Langenhoven Park (Koppie Walking Route); Happy Valley (Happy Valley Walking Route); Pellissier (Olien Walking Route) and Deale Road (Ekopark Walking Route).
Horse riding/racing: The Bloemfontein Turf Club and Equestrian Centre are situated on the Mazelspoort Road.
Maselspoort Resort: Maselspoort resort lies on the banks of the Modder River, about 23 km north of the city. It offers ample opportunities for canoeing, swimming, rowing, angling and tennis or just relaxing amid the lovely natural surroundings. Comfortable accommodation is available.
Parachuting: Parachute jumps at Bainsvlei can be organised on request.
Skydiving: Skydiving is done from Tempe Airport. Contact the Bloemfontein Skydiving Club for more information.
Sport: The city’s rugby, cricket, hockey, gymnastics, swimming and athletics facilities are of world standard.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Florisbad Site: The National Museum in Bloemfontein has a large variety of archaeological exhibits but is renowned, both locally and internationally, for its most important exhibit the Florisbad skull. This skull fragment was discovered in 1932, at Florisbad, a natural mineral spring, just north of the city of Bloemfontein. Today, the Florisbad skull is accepted as that of an archaic Homo sapiens (people who were almost, but not entirely modern humans) and it is dated at approximately 260 000 years old. Fully modern humans -such as the San hunters living at Florisbad at the time – were believed to have appeared in Southern Africa about 120 000 years ago.
Fossil Finds: During the 1920s and 1930s excavations at the Florisbad site also yielded other interesting finds, such as rare and distinct fossil animals. The research laboratory at Florisbad now houses several fossil mammal collections from the central interior and an osteological collection of modern mammals – one of only three such facilities in South Africa.
San Rock Art: The Rock Art Department of the National Museum is one of only two full-time rock art research entities in southern Africa. The Department has a collection of some engravings and paintings on show. These exquisitely engraved and painted images inform the onlooker of the complex religious and social lives of the San communities that lived in this area. The Free State has some of the finest San rock art sites in South Africa — Tandjesberg is one such site and is located 14 km north-east of Ladybrand. Modderpoort in the Eastern Free State is another.
Art And Crafts
Art and crafts market: The “Volksblad” Art and Crafts Market is held at King’s Park on the first Saturday of each month.
Art Route: Follow the Bloemfontein Art Route for an interesting overview of the city’s art treasures. On the way pay a visit to the Johannes Stegmann Art Gallery.
Oliewenhuis Art Gallery and Museum: The Oliewenhuis Art Museum, in Harry Smith Street, is housed in a Neo-Cape Dutch Manor house. The former residence of previous Governors-General and State Presidents of South Africa, it became an art museum in 1985 and houses superior local and foreign works of art. The Museum’s permanent collection of historical and contemporary South African art boasts works by renowned South African artists such as JH Pierneef, Gregoire Boonzaier and Walter Battiss. One of the highlights of a visit to the Museum is the Blind Alphabet A, by Willem Boshoff. This work consists of 94 sculptures, each sculpture representing a particular form or shape that can be linked to a particular word or term describing the shape. Carved in various kinds of wood, each sculpture is placed inside a small closed black box. Braille plaques are glued onto each lid, explaining the origin of the sculpture and the word that was used. In this way blind people are able to appreciate the sculptures and the sighted are left in the dark! Blind guides are on hand on occasional Sundays to lead sighted visitors through the exhibition.
Sand du Plessis Theatre: The Sand du Plessis Theatre is considered by many to be one of the most modern theatres in the country. The clever use of glass and light, combined with the beautiful and very valuable paintings that form part of the interior decor, has earned it national acclaim. It is a popular venue for national and international productions.
Sculptures and statues: There are many individual statues at various venues throughout the city. For example, opposite the City Hall, surrounded by 33 fountains, stands an imposing statue of the late South African statesman, JBM Hertzog – the work of South African sculptor Danie de Jager. The statue of the Free State Boer hero, General Christiaan de Wet, on his favourite horse, stands guard in front of the Fourth Raadsaal in President Brand Street. The busts of some of South Africa’s most renowned Afrikaans writers, poets and musicians stand in the garden of the Old Government Building.
Macufe Festival: This festival, the event of the year, is a cultural eisteddfod of storytelling, poetry, art music and dance. Macufe is growing by the year and is an ideal opportunity for local artists to gain national and international exposure.
Mangaung Cultural Township Tour: Mangaung Township is situated approximately five km from Bloemfontein and is renowned for its friendly people. Popular tourist attractions include the St Johannes Lutheran Church (scene of the first forced removals of coloured people), Coostah House (the only sandstone building in the township), the Victorian-style Jack Parr House and Maphikela House, which has been declared a National monument. Get to know the local people and spend an evening of entertainment in the township. Township tours are conducted strictly by appointment only. Contact the Mangaung Municipality for more information on professional tour guides.
Onze Rust Estate Tour: Onze Rust farm is situated south of Bloemfontein and belongs to the fifth generation of Steyns descended from the original owner, MT Steyn, one-time President of the Orange Free State. The President purchased the farm in 1897 and lived there until his death in 1916. Many historical events took place at the homestead and on the farm before, during and after the Anglo-Boer War. Today the farm has its own postage stamp and exports a unique KWV sherry. Visit the farm and homestead and stay overnight or join an organised tour that includes activities such as a visit to the homestead filled with personal memorabilia, art and the collections of President Steyn, hiking to an old blockhouse on the farm, attending an informative slide show and the chance to shoot with an array of old (1886) guns, such as an old Martini Henry, Mauser or British Lee Enfield rifles.
Entertainment And Shopping
Loch Logan: Enjoy a meal at Loch Logan, Bloemfontein’s own Waterfront. In addition to the many restaurants and entertainment centres, visitors can also browse through the flea market stalls during the day.
Revolving Restaurant: The revolving restaurant on the 26th floor of the CR Swart Building provides diners with excellent views of the city.
Shopping Centres and Flea Markets: The city has several modern shopping centres. Street, farm and flea markets are held throughout the month at different venues.
State President Swart Park: Spend a relaxing afternoon at State President Swart Park, renowned for its sporting facilities, and enjoy the spectacular array of 4 000 rose bushes in adjoining Kings Park or while away a few hours at the nearby zoo.
Fauna And Flora
Bloemfontein Agricultural and Industrial Show: This show is usually presented in July, each year. Boyden Observatory: The Boyden Observatory, at Maselspoort, on the outskirts of Bloemfontein, was built in 1927 by Harvard University, America, and equipped with a 152,40-cm telescope.
Bloemfontein Orchid House: The Orchid House, situated in Hamilton Park on the western slope of Naval Hill, is home to a wondrous array of over 3 000 beautiful and delicate orchid plants. A specially designed section – the Fragrance Garden – has been set aside for visitors who are visually impaired.
Bloemfontein Zoological Garden: The Bloemfontein Zoological Garden in President Swart Park is home to many different species of animals and birds, as well as to the biggest collection of primates in South Africa. The zoo, however, gained international fame with the birth of “Tokkelos”, the product of cross breeding a lion and tiger.
Botanical Garden: The 70 ha Free State Botanical Garden is criss-crossed by trails that offer visitors, including the elderly and disabled, a chance to enjoy its beautiful indigenous plants and numerous species of birds. Some 6 ha of the garden have been set aside to grow as much of the Free State flora as possible.
Beyond the cultivated garden lie some naturally wooded dolomite koppies (hillocks) covered in cabbage (Cussonia paniculata), white stinkwood (Celtis africana), false olive (Buddleja salinga) and wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana) trees. Climb these koppies and be rewarded by a view of the garden. Some 110 species of grasses from the Free State are grouped in different grass gardens and are scientifically labelled. The Botanical Garden is at its best during Spring, when most of the flowers are in bloom, but even mid-Winter offers something special – splashes of red and yellow when the Aloe grandidentata and the wild pomegranate (Rhigozum obovatum) burst forth in colour. A well-stocked nursery (with surplus plants for sale), a herbarium (much appreciated and used by students) and a tea garden conclude the attractions.
Crocodile Farm: Bloemfontein Crocodile Farm, situated on National Road N1, north of the city, allows one insightful glimpses into the fascinating lives of these ancient reptiles.
Franklin Game Reserve: The Franklin Game Reserve on Naval Hill is the only city-centre game reserve in the world. Here you will find giraffe, ostrich several species of antelope, many birds, the ruins of the houses of a pre-historic people who lived here many years ago, as well as the renowned “white horse” of Naval Hill. A naval brigade was quartered on top of the “koppie” (hillock) known as Naval Hill, during the Anglo-Boer War. After the departure of the Naval Brigade, the Wiltshire Regiment was quartered on the hill. The soldiers of this regiment fashioned a white horse out of whitewashed stones on the slope of the “koppie”, inspired by a similar pre-historic white horse cut into a hillside in their home county of Wiltshire in England.
Herbal Garden for the Blind: The herbal garden for the visually impaired is situated in Union Avenue.
King’s Park: The park, with its more than 4 000 rose bushes, is one of Bloemfontein’s prettiest landmarks. The city’s small zoo is situated in this park.
Rustfontein Dam Nature Reserve: This reserve lies just off the Thaba ‘Nchu Road, 50 km east of Bloemfontein. The tree-covered hillocks and ridges and grassy plains are home to animals such as wildebeest, blesbuck, springbuck and zebra. The dam inside the reserve is home to several species of waterfowl and Egyptian geese are usually present in large numbers. The natural vegetation is savannah veld dotted with hardy camel-thorn trees. The tops of the camel-thorn trees make ideal nesting places for white-backed vultures. Camping sites are available.
Soetdoring Nature Reserve: The 7 500 ha Soetdoring Nature Reserve lies 45 km from Bloemfontein. The name “Soetdoring” means “sweet thorn” – an indigenous thorn tree. Animals such as white rhino, eland and springbuck roam the plains of the reserve and kudu, waterbuck, reedbuck and impala find sanctuary in the bushes along the banks of the Modder River. Reptiles and smaller mammals, in the reserve, include the leguaan, the Cape clawless otter, the African wild cat and the water mongoose. The reserve also has a special predator park that contains lions and Cape wild dogs. The Modder River enters the reserve on its eastern border, snakes through the reserve and then exits into the Krugersdrift Dam in the west where a large variety of aquatic birds have made their home. The reserve offers a camp with accommodation of a somewhat interesting type: modified old railway coaches situated under shady sweet thorn trees.
Swallow migration: Every year, during spring, thousands of migrating European swallows descend on a specific garden in the Bloemfontein suburb of Universitas. This garden has become their annual spring habitat and they return here every year without fail.
History And Architecture
Anglican Cathedral: For an exquisite example of Victorian architecture, especially Victorian windows, visit the Anglican Cathedral in St. George Street. Major Henry Warden laid the foundation stone of the building, the third oldest Anglican Church in South Africa, in 1850. The famous author, JRR Tolkien and his brother were baptised in the font of the Cathedral and their father lies buried nearby. Rudyard Kipling also worshipped in the Cathedral.
Battlefields: Several famous battles took place in the vicinity of the city. The Driefontein and Poplar Grove Battlefields are situated between Dealesville and De Brug, northwest of the city and the Sannaspos Battlefield is on the Thaba ‘Nchu Road, east of the city.
Bloemfontein Car Club: Are you a classic car lover and owner and enjoy organised activities with people who share your interests? If so, join the Bloemfontein Car Club. If you are in the city. Visit its website at http://www.houtspeek for more information.
Bram Fischer House: The Bram Fischer House at 72 Reitz Avenue, Westdene, was the home of the Fischer family from 1910 to 1946. Bram Fischer, born in 1908, was a member of the Communist party and the lawyer who represented the African National Congress (ANC) members accused in both the Treason and Rivonia Trials in the 1960s. He was arrested in 1965 and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was also incarcerated. Fischer was later transferred to a hospital after being diagnosed with cancer and died in 1976.
City Hall: The old City Hall, designed by Sir Gordon Leith in 1935 and built of sandstone, is located in President Brand Street, a declared National Conservation area. The beautiful Burmese wood panelling inside the building and the Italian tiles are particularly interesting.
Civic Centre: In contrast to the historic sandstone buildings lining President Brand Street, the Civic Centre is a modern-day “glass palace”. It serves as the headquarters of the Mangaung Municipality. A bust of Bram Fisher is located in the entrance hall of the building.
Fichardt Library: The GA Fichardt Library in West Burger Street has a sizeable collection of “Africana” as well as a unique drama library.
Council Chamber), in St. George Street, was built in 1848/9 in the building style of the time — white-washed walls, a dung floor and a thatched roof. The Raadsaal is the oldest building in Bloemfontein that still survives in its original state and is indeed unique because it housed nearly every civilian institution of the time – from the local town school to the chamber of the Free State Volksraad (Parliament) in 1854. In 1936 the building was proclaimed a National monument.
Fountain: The site of the fountain which gave the city its name also features a column and a mosaic with the town’s coat of arms.
Fourth “Raadsaal” (Council Chamber): The fourth “Raadsaal” building, the last home of the “model” Free State Republican Parliament, was completed in 1893. Its architect, Lennox Canning, designed this impressive edifice in classical style with Doric columns and a
domed tower. The original benches used by the members of the Free State Republican Parliament are still intact, as is the original, beautifully carved wooden Coat of Arms of the Free State. The building is situated on the corner of President Brand and Charles Streets.
Free State Agricultural Museum: The Free State Agricultural Museum at Glen Agricultural College houses fascinating displays of antique farming implements, depicting the history of farming in the Free State.
Freshford House Museum: The Freshford House Museum, in Kellner Street, gives the visitor an intimate glimpse into the old-world charm of the 1890s, an era of gracious living, romance and elegance. Built in 1897, by the British architect, John Edwin Harrison, for his new bride, the house was restored and refurbished to mint condition by the National Museum. A typical Edwardian garden was also recreated and planted with old English roses.
Hertzog House Museum: The Hertzog House Museum is situated in Goddard Street, in the homestead of former Boer General and later Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, JBM Hertzog. He lived in the house from 1895 to 1924. His Monument towers over Hertzog Square.
Institute for Contemporary History: The Institute, on the campus the University of the Free State, exhibits important paintings, busts and objects relating to political leaders and state presidents.
Jubileum Building: The Jubileum Building was constructed in the 1920s and is a popular venue for concerts, political meetings and exhibitions.
Jukskei Museum: The privately owned Jukskei Museum, the only one of its kind in the world, presents the visitor with an overview of the origin and development of this truly South African sport. Visits to the museum can only be arranged by prior appointment with the owner.
Maphikela House: Maphikela was one of the founder members of the Executive Committee of the ANC in Bloemfontein in 1935. Many important ANC meetings were held in Maphikela House, which is now a National monument.
Museums: Bloemfontein has various other interesting museums such as the Educational Museum, the Music and Drama Museum , as well as numerous private museums.
National Museum: The National Museum in Bloemfontein is a natural history, cultural history and art museum. It houses a large variety of archaeological and palaeontological exhibits, of which the Florisbad skull is the most famous and known all over the world. Another interesting exhibit at the museum is the reconstructed street scene that takes the visitor back to the turn of the 19th/20th centuries.
The 50 horsepower, seven cylinder, air-cooled rotary engine of the Gnome type that was donated to the museum by one of South Africa’s early aviators, the engineer John Weston, in 1929, is the oldest aero-engine of its kind in the country. The museum also includes a large number of artefacts that depict the culture and lifestyle of the Sotho people. The Rock Art Department is another very important feature of the museum.
National Afrikaans Literary Museum and Research Centre: This museum is housed in the Cape Dutch style Old Government Building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, the architect who also designed the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The museum focuses on the birth and development of Afrikaans. It houses more than a million items connected with the Afrikaans literary heritage.
National Women’s Memorial: The National Women’s Memorial, sculpted by Anton Van Wouw in the form of a 36,5 m high sandstone obelisk, honours the nearly 27 000 women and children who lost their lives in concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War. The statue of two sombre women holding a dying child adorns the base of the obelisk that also holds the ashes of Emily Hobhouse, the renowned Englishwoman, who did much to ease the suffering of the Boer women and children in the concentration camps. Beloved Boer leader, General CR de Wet, President and Mrs MT Steyn and the Reverend JD Kestell are buried at the foot of the monument.
Presidency: The presidents of the former Republic of the Free State used the stately old Presidency, built in 1885, by Lennox Canning, as their official residence. The building has since been restored and is now a museum. It is situated in President Brand Street.
President Brand Cemetery: Many of the men, women and children who lost their lives during the Anglo-Boer War lie buried, with former State Presidents, in the President Brand Cemetery on the corner of Church Street and President Avenue. The row upon row of metal crosses are a stark reminder of the tragedy of war.
President Brand Street: A trip down President Brand Street will take you past stately sandstone buildings such as the Old Presidency, Supreme Court, Appeal Court, Fourth Raadsaal, City Hall, Literature Museum, Hertzog Square and the statue of the Anglo-Boer War hero, General Christiaan de Wet. This charming tree-lined street, with its many historical buildings, has been declared a National monument.
Rugby Museum: The Rugby Museum houses one of the largest private collections of rugby memorabilia in the world and may be visited by prior appointment with the owner.
Queen’s Fort Military Museum: The Queen’s Fort Military Museum, in Church Street, depicts all the military conflicts that raged in the Free State and features exhibits dating from 1820 to the present. The fort was originally erected in 1848 by Boer forces to help withstand attacks by local Basotho tribes.
School of Armour: The school has a fine display of weapons and tanks and an early military hospital.
Supreme Court Building: The Supreme Court Building in President Brand Street was built in 1909 in the Ionic style. Its fluted columns are typical of this classical “temple” style architecture.
Twin-spired Church: The twin-spired church, in Charles Street, is the only twin-spired Dutch Reformed Church in Southern Africa. The building was completed in 1880 on the site of a smaller church where the famous Scottish-born evangelist and writer Andrew Murray ministered. The last three presidents of the old Free State Republic took their oath of office in this church.
Unit Museum: The Unit Museum, at the Tempe Military Base, commemorates the efforts of the “One Special Service Battalion”. This special battalion was created to encourage and employ the many despondent young men who were unemployed as a result of the raging Depression of the 1930s.
University of the Free State: The campus of the University of the Free State has an interesting mixture of old and new buildings.
Vintage Vehicle Collection: The Vintage Vehicle Collection consists of a collection of vintage and classical cars, motorcycles and other motor memorabilia of the past 100 years. Visits can only be arranged by prior appointment with the owner.
Wagon Museum: The Wagon Museum in St George Street is a tribute to the various modest means of transport used during bygone days. It houses a collection of historical wagons and carriages, such as stage coaches and Cape carts.
War Museum: The War Museum is dedicated to the South African men who fought against the British in the Anglo-Boer War and other struggles in South Africa. This Museum is a standard source of reference and material for students of the Anglo-Boer War. Its exhibits include photographs, paintings, documents, books, uniforms, weapons and sculptures from that time.
Warden Square: Warden Square with its many monuments and statues is situated close to the National Museum. The Square is named after Major HD Warden, the first official British Resident of the Free State.