Church Square

Landmarks in or near CBD, City Bowl in Cape Town, South Africa.

Western Cape Tourist AttractionsChurch Square

Where? Corner of Parliament and Spin Streets, Cape Town Central, Cape Town

Overnight? Accommodation in CBD, in Western Cape

Church Square lies on the corner of Parliament and Spin streets, just south-west of St George's Cathedral and the Slave Lodge.

The little cobbled square, though perhaps not much to look at, has only recently been reclaimed from its former role as a parking lot. The square is surrounded by architecturally impressive buildings and provides a surprisingly quiet space in the heart of Cape Town (one of the better ways to enjoy it is from one of the coffee spots on the square).

On the square is Groote Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church), which has stood here since 1704. The site was originally an abandoned garden plot at the bottom end of the Company Gardens. Back in those days Spin Street was referred to as Plein Straat, or even Kleine Plein Straat.

Interestingly, the only part of the original church still standing is the church tower. When it became unstable, Groote Kerk was rebuilt on the same site between 1813 and 1841.

The Social History Centre also stands on the square (although few realise this because it is housed in The National Mutual Building) overlooking the statue of Oom Jan (the parliamentarian Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr who fought for the rights of Dutch as a language equal to English)

The interesting aspects to Church Square are the invisible bits of history. For instance, the square once functioned as a slave market connected to the Slave Lodge (built in 1679 and thus a contemporary of Groote Kerk), which lies just west of the square and is a very important part of the Cape's history.

Between 1730 and 1753 Church Square became a meeting place for local dogs. They became such a menace for church goers that the city employed a dog-whipper to stop them harassing those attending church (historians believe the dog menace was directly related to the small pox epidemics of 1713 and 1750 when, at the church graveyard, bodies piled up at a rather alarming rate).

The graveyard was thought to extend towards Longmarket Street.

A spinning factory used to lie on Church Square's eastern boundary, and a slave tree once stood in the square, a place for slaves to wait whilst their owners went to church. The tree was removed in 1916 but the space remains commemorated.

Eleven granite blocks were erected as a memorial to the enslaved. Two are raised on a plinth to the south west of the square close to the Slave Lodge, whilst the other nine are grouped together in a grid near the Slave Tree plaque. Their sides are engraved with the names of former slaves – previously forgotten names, now remembered by all who walk by.

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