söndag 19 december 2010

The City of Franschhoek

We leave Môreson Winery and continue to the city of Franschhoek. Franschhoek was founded in the late 17th century by French Huguenot refugees. I do not know how much you know about the civil French religious wars in the 16th and 17th centuries, so here is a short background:

All began of course with Martin Luther’s 1517 nailing of his 94 theses to the church door which brought forth the protestant reformation. In France, as in other Western European countries, many people converted to this new form of expressing their religious beliefs. Tension, however, arose between French Protestants and French Catholics and in 1562 this manifested itself in the Massacre of Vassy. This is prior to the reign of Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIV, but concurrent with Elizabeth I.

Anyway, the religious tensions continued and resulted in many battles and massacres, such as the notorious St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572. The French Wars of Religion, as it often is called (1562–98), came to an official end with the Edict of Nantes in 1598, granting certain rights for French Protestants. Some eighty years later these rights were withdrawn as the Nantes Edict was revoked and replaced with the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685.

In effect, this meant an end to French Protestantism as most Huguenots, as they were called, felt that the French government was failing them and it was time to leave the country. Many Huguenots fled to the Americas and the English Isles, but some of them found their way to the Dutch province of Cape Town. They were granted land in the valley of Olifantshoek, which quickly became known as le Coin Français (the French Corner), and later on as Franschhoek, which is Afrikaans for French Corner.

Franschhoek is a very beautiful, small, and sleepy town. The bus parks just outside the main church and we wander out in the sunshine. Our guide tells us that many “swallows” reside here (I suspect you are able to find out whom the expression refers to…). Our guide has also pointed out where the best wine shop is, and I find myself hasting down the main road to visit it. The shop is called la Cotte Inn and apart from South African and imported wines they carry a small but interesting selection of French cheese. How about that.

I browse through the small shop, it has a genuine feeling about it and very picturesque. It has a good selection of South African quality wine, including many interesting sparkling ones. In the end, however, I settle for some dessert wine. I’ll try to improve myself…

Back at the church, I discover that many of my fellow colleagues have taken refuge in some of the local bars! There are a few minutes left before we shall move on, and to my delight I see a little shop carrying a selection of African art objects. The shop is called African Art Gallery. I enter.

Very nice place! For once, I am in a shop with genuine African art. During our stay in South Africa, we have seen lots of people and lots of shops selling African art, but very few of them have felt genuine. Most have felt being designed in a western studio. These artifacts, however, feel truly African. I am basing this judgment on my previous experience livening in Liberia as a child, where “Chippare” could not get enough of trying to sell us African art (you should see my parents’ basement…)

Anyway, evening is approaching and we hop on the bus again for our final stop for our Stellenbosch outing, the very famous restaurant of Haute Cabrière just outside Franschoek. But that’s another post!

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