Free State DestinationsJagersfontein, Xhariep Region
In 2005 the media considered Jagersfontein 'forgotten in history'. Today the little town has remarketed itself as a former mining village of note; the town that South Africa forgot, yes.
But Google Earth certainly didn't. From above the visibility of Jagersfontein's open diamond mine ensures its position as the world's oldest and largest hand excavated pit – and they're proud of it. Despite having a surface area of 19.65 hectares the diamond mine remained in Kimberley's shadow until 2005 when experts finally agreed it was indeed the biggest hand-excavated hole in the world. Kimberley's big hole is slightly deeper, but not as wide.
Not only is the mine famous, even if no longer mined (it operated between 1871 and 1971), but it is also the site of the discovery of two of the world's most famous gems - the Excelsior diamond and the Reitz diamond (renamed the Jubilee) - amongst the top ten largest diamonds ever unearthed.
The Excelsior, discovered in 1893, is its most exciting find. A blue-white colour it measures two and a half inches in length, two inches across, and one inch in thickness. It was the world's largest known uncut diamond until Cullinan unearthed the 3 106 ct in 1905.
Officially closed in February 1969, the Jagersfontein mine produced an estimated 9 526 million carats, worth R260 million in terms of 1970 values.
Head to the historical village to see: the character homes (you can pick up an historical cottage for next to nothing), three Herbert Baker buildings, the oldest Free State Masonic lodge, the Open Mine Museum, and a Roman Catholic Church dating back to 1881.