The town was founded in 1812 when Colonel John Graham, who had been sent to quell the unrest on the border, selected Grahamstown, near the Kowie River, as one of two military stronghold sites. At this stage white settlers west of the Kowie River met with strong resistance from Xhosa tribes in the area. The tiny garrison stationed here was nearly wiped out in 1819, during the “Battle of Grahamstown”. The Egazini (“Place of Blood”) Memorial commemorates the site of the battle.
The Grahamstown of today is an important commercial, educational and industrial centre. It is also fondly referred to as the “City of Saints” because it has more than 40 churches and cathedrals. The city also has several museums and monuments. The broad tree-lined streets with their stunning old historic buildings and soaring spires echo with the eager young voices of the many students who attend the numerous educational centres, the well-known Rhodes University and the Technical College.
Adventure And Sport
Golf: Enjoy a game of golf on Grahamstown’s 18-hole golf course. Hiking: Enquire at the local tourism office about the Oldenburgia Hiking Trail. Sky-diving and paragliding: The Grahamstown Sky-diving Club undertakes regular dives over the nearby coastal area of Port Alfred. Mountain Drive has ideal conditions for paragliding, good thermals and take-offs.
Archaeology And Palaeontology
Mummified Khoisan remains: In 1999 Dr Johan Binneman, archaeologist of the Albany Museum, discovered the mummified remains of an ancient Khoisan hunter-gatherer in the Kouga/Baviaanskloof area. The mummy is presently in storage at the museum.
Art And Crafts
Dakwa Art and Craft Project: Voted one of the ten best craft cooperatives in the country, this Grahamstown-based community centre is modelled on its namesake, the Dakwa Art and Craft Centre in Tanzania. It trains and teaches local people high-quality weaving, textile printing and graphics techniques and helps them to sell their artwork and to obtain employment.
Masithandane (“Let us love one another”) Project: The project started out as a community soup kitchen that provided food for the disadvantaged communities. Gradually, the local women were encouraged to learn new skills to support themselves and a powerful initiative was begun. Plastic bags were collected, thereby ridding the streets of litter and providing raw material for the making of hats, bags and mats. Traditional beadwork was combined with this enterprise and the endeavour has grown to such an extent that it is now a thriving tourism attraction.
National Standard Bank Art Festival: Each July, the National Standard Bank Art Festival transforms Grahamstown into a Mecca of the arts. The festival provides opportunities for all the disciplines, including drama, dance, music, visual arts, cabarets and student drama. The book fair, film festival and open-air craft markets also draw many visitors. The festival is widely regarded as one of the largest of its kind in the world and runs for about ten days. Accommodation is very scarce during this period and should be booked well in advance.
Provost Prison: This former military prison, built in 1838, is now the venue for a lively arts and craft market.
History And Architecture
International Library of African Music: The International Library of African Music on the campus of Rhodes University is responsible for researching, teaching and publishing African music. In addition to recordings, books and catalogues, the library also exhibits over 200 African musical instruments that are all in perfect working order.
Musical Instrument Factory: Guided tours are conducted at a small factory where traditional African musical instruments are manufactured. Music plays an important role in African communities.
Valley of the Ancient Voice tours: Guided walks are conducted to this secretive rock pool, a San refuge and spiritual centre, situated on a game farm, approximately 20 minutes drive from Grahamstown. Talks about San rock art and other relics and artefacts as well as local San culture and customs, form part of the programme.
Fauna And Flora
Grahamstown Botanical Garden: This is the country’s second oldest botanical garden and was established to protect the indigenous flora of South Africa. The English garden is reminiscent of the early Settler gardens and forms the centrepiece of this lovely area.
Thomas Baines Nature Reserve: The 1 000-ha Thomas Baines Nature Reserve lies 13 km south of the town and is home to a wide variety of species of antelopes, the unique Addo species of the Cape Buffalo, white and black rhino and several other species of game. The Palmiet River flows through the reserve and permit-holders often angle here. Non-power boating is also allowed at the Settlers Dam. The reserve also protects a cave where Middle Stone Age people left behind layers of bones of small animals. The two-day hiking trail offers overnight accommodation and provides an excellent opportunity to explore the natural beauty of the area.
Koedoeskloof Private Game Reserve: Set in the foothills of the Winterberg Mountains, this reserve offers a wide range of outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain-bike trails and horse riding.
Queen’s Road: The first military highway built in South Africa stretches from Grahamstown to Fort Beaufort. The Great Fish River Complex, once the scene of bloody Frontier Wars, runs alongside part of the road. A lookout point high on a ledge (Adam’s Krantz) offers a spectacular view of the great river as it meanders through the hills.
Self-drive Frontier Country Routes: Six Frontier Country Routes start or end in Grahamstown. These include: the N10 from Ncanara interchange to Grahamstown; the R67 route from Grahamstown to Bathurst; the route from Grahamstown to the Great Fish River Bridge; the route from Grahamstown to Bedford; the R67 route from Grahamstown to Fort Beaufort and the route from Grahamstown to Kenton on Sea. All these routes offer spectacular views of the countryside.
History And Architecture
Albany Museum Complex: The fascinating Albany Museum Complex includes Fort Selwyn, built by the Royal Engineers in 1836; the Provost Prison; the Observatory Museum and the History and Natural Sciences Museums.
Cathedral of St Michael and St George: The cathedral took 128 years to complete and is one of the most impressive buildings in South Africa. Its spire and 45-m bell tower is a Grahamstown landmark and can be seen from afar.
1820 Settlers Museum: The museum houses some impressive works by Thomas Baines and provides a genealogical service to researchers all over the world. It immortalises the contribution that the 1820 British Settlers made to the development of South Africa. The focal point of the Fountain Foyer is a yellowwood sculpture by the South African artist, Cecil Skotnes. The museum forms the hub of the Annual Standard Bank National Arts Festival. The main theatre can seat 900 people but there are several other conference areas.
History Museum: This museum preserves the records and family trees of the 1820 Settlers and other memorabilia from the Settler period. Other collections include an Egyptian mummy and an ethnographic collection of the culture of the Xhosa people.
JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology: The institute houses the National Collection of Fish, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. In 1952 the second coelacanth to be caught in the world, was caught off the Comoro Islands and brought to the Institute to be studied. The coelacanth is a primitive marine fish with fleshy, limb-like pectoral fins. It was thought to be extinct until the first living fish was caught off the coast of East Africa in 1938. The second specimen is now an important exhibit at the Institute.
National English Literary Museum: This museum was set up to promote reading and the appreciation of English literature. One of the museum’s proudest possessions is the personal archive of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.
Natural Sciences Museum: The museum features a fascinating reconstruction of a Stegosaurus, the first dinosaur fossil found in South Africa, over two million species of plants and animals, as well as material from the late Stone Age to the early Iron Age.
Observatory Museum: Once a fairy-tale style Victorian house with a magic mirror, this museum has the only Victorian camera obscura in the Southern Hemisphere. Once the house of a former jeweller, Henry Galpin, the Observatory is also one of the country’s most beautiful buildings. It is also the place where, in 1867, Dr WG Atherstone identified the first diamond found in South Africa.
Oldest Post Box in South Africa: This post box is situated at the corner of Somerset and Worcester Streets. Mail a letter to a friend and it will be franked with a special postmark.
Piet Retief’s Trading Store: View this historical trading store, opened in 1819 and belonging to one of the leaders of the “Great Trek”, the migration of hundreds of disillusioned and demoralised Cape Dutch settlers and farmers, from the Eastern Cape frontier area northwards to the interior.
Rhodes University Classics Museum: The University Museum features objects originating from the ancient worlds of the Etruscans and Egyptians.
South African Library for the Blind: The library provides a service to the entire country with its excellent collection of Braille books and multimedia sources.
Victorian and Georgian architecture: Grahamstown is an architectural treasure trove of mainly Victorian and Georgian styles. The City Hall and some buildings in High Street are prime examples, as well as the Baptist, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Trinity, Methodist and St Patrick’s Catholic churches.
Yellow House: The first public building put up in Grahamstown was the Yellow House, where the old jail and court messenger’s house were located.