Kapoors Year 6: Iceland To South Africa travel blog

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The Four Clocks On The Intricate Church Steeple Are All Operational!



Here are some excerpts from the Lonely Planet – South Africa & Lesotho & Swaziland chapter on the Western Cape about Swellendam:

“One of the oldest towns in South Africa, Swellendam has a great deal to offer visitors interested in heritage and culture, architecture, wildlife and outdoor adventures. Surrounded by the undulating wheat lands of the Overberg and protected by the Langeberge mountain range, it’s perfectly positioned for exploring the Little Karoo and makes a good stopover on the way further east to the Garden Route.

The town has beautiful Cape Dutch architecture and dates back to 1776. The main sight in town is the excellent Drostdy Museum. The centrepiece is the beautiful drostdy (residence of an official) itself, which dates from 1746.

In the old mission, or Oefeninghuis, on the main street. Note the twin clocks, one of which is permanently set at 12.15pm. This was the time for the daily church service; the illiterate townspeople only had to match the working clock with the painted one to know when their presence was required. It currently is home to the Swellendam Tourism Bureau.

You can’t miss the enormous Dutch Reformed Church in the centre of town; Swellendam residents swear every visitor takes a photograph of it.”


When we looked ahead for a place to stop for lunch between Arniston and Mossel Bay, Swellendam sounded like the perfect place. The converted Old Gaol on Church Square had a café with excellent reviews. We parked the car and I walked over to take the requisite photo of the stunning Dutch Reformed Church. I would have been sure to take a photo even if I’d hadn’t read that the locals are convinced that all who pass through take a photo to remember their amazing church.

Lunch was terrific and we spun around the center of town to take some photos of the beautiful Cape Dutch-style buildings. If we were staying longer, I would have liked to explore the interior of the Drostdy Museum, the exterior was lovely with the symmetrical wings on either side of the front door.

However, for me the most memorable building was the one housing the Swellendam Tourism Bureau. The old mission dates back to 1749, and in those days, most of the residents of the town were illiterate. They were expected to attend church every day at 12:15 but had not been taught to tell time. I took a photo of the mission with its two clocks, but unfortunately, a tree is obscuring the working clock, located on the wall below the painted clock.

All the churchgoers had to do was match up the hands on the painted clock with the working one, and they would escape the wrath of the preacher. This wasn’t just on Sundays, but every day of the week, yikes!


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