Groote Kerk

Landmarks / Religious in or near Cape Town Central, City Bowl in Cape Town, South Africa.

Western Cape Tourist AttractionsGroote Kerk

Where? 39 upper Adderley Street, Cape Town Central, City Bowl, Cape Town

Overnight? Stay in Cape Town Central, in Western Cape

What strikes you, as you look at the oldest church in the country, is how modern it seems, given its three hundred and thirty odd years.

Which is as it should be, considering that all that remains of the original is the old tower (walk a little ways down Parliament Street, and you'll see it squashed between the church and the next building) and the incredible pulpit carved by the sculptor Anton Anreith.

Groote Kerk was the first Christian church built in the Cape, soon after the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck (the original was built in 1678). But the architectural story is not a happy one, with many an alteration and numerous building problems, mainly to do with the roof.

When the old roof was finally taken off, to make way for a new one, people realised the old church was not structurally strong enough to hold it. And so the original was demolished and rebuilt, completed in 1841.

Despite this, a visit to the church is hugely rewarding. Not only does it have the country's largest organ, but the floor stones are recycled headstones and its dome is the largest unsupported domed ceiling in the southern hemisphere, its Baroque-style ceiling roses a beautiful feature in the effortless white arch above.

The Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, or Groote Kerk (Great Church), is cavernous inside. Regarded as one of the most prominent Dutch Reformed churches in the country, it serves, today, as the church's headquarters.

The church is virtually all timber – wooden organ, wooden pews, wooden galleries, and a hugely ornate wooden pulpit with a sculpture of two lions, beneath which Simon van der Stel – first governor of the Dutch Cape colony, and the founder of Groot Constantia and Stellenbosch - is buried.

The enclosed pews would have belonged to wealthy families, who could afford to pay for the luxury of a key allowing them entry into their own pew when in church, although later, it is interesting to note, that a few of the pews were dedicated to boys' boarding houses in the vicinity.

The organ, above the congregation, is magnificent with just under 6 000 pipes.

When? week days between 10am and 2pm.
How much? admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted.

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