Greenmarket Square, Cape Town





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Post date: 07/08/2012
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History: During the seventeenth century a number of streets came into existence above fashionable Sea Street (Strand Street) in which the Koopmans de Wet House and the unique group of buildings of the Lutheran Church still survive today. These streets, with their modern names, were: Heere Street (Castle Street), Rijger Street (Short- market Street), Olifant Street (Longmarket Street) and Tuin Street (Church Street). At that time the entrance to the Company’s garden was somewhere in Tuin Street, and there was a market square at the top of Rijger, Olifant and Tuin Streets. This square developed quite naturally. Very likely the Company first brought vegetables from its adjoining garden to this place for distribution and sale. Farmers and freed slaves soon followed this example and brought their produce here in ox-wagons, one-horse carts and handcarts, so that the market square became a picturesque vegetable market under the shade of a colourful variety of sun-umbrellas and other shelters. Here, as on the parade, there was also a fountain or pump where the citizens obtained water.
Gradually buildings arose round the square. At first they were ordinary dwelling-houses, single-storeyed, with thatched roofs and gables, but in the course of time, when the square became the administrative and social centre of the town, the simple dwellings gave way to imposing and elegant buildings. The first of the new buildings was the lovely old Burger Watch House and Council Chamber whose history is inextricably interwoven with that of Greenmarket Square.
By 1840 nearly all the single-storeyed buildings round the square had been replaced by taller ones. To the right of the Burgher Watch House stood a double- storeyed building with a pediment ornamented in high relief, and on its left there stood another with an attic and surmounted by three figures. The whole of the south side of the square was enclosed by a flat-roofed, double-storeyed building.
Greenmarket Square itself was a kaleidoscope of the life of the town. In the first place, it was the business centre where buying and selling took place. Wagons and carts for hire stood there ; their tariffs were fixed by municipal regulations : a load conveyed half a mile (792 m) by wagon cost l0c and the charge for a cart-load for the same distance was 7 On the southwestern side of the square the trained workmen, messengers and porters waited to be hired. Porterage fees were also laid down:
2c to carry a letter or a parcel not exceeding 50 lb. (22,7 kg) in weight half a mile, and twice the amount for a mile ( 1,6 km). Later in the day and towards evening when the bustle and hubbub had subsided, the square became the promenade of fashionably clad citizens with their elegantly dressed ladies, while others could be seen carried in smart sedan chairs by their slaves.
At the turn of the present century the square gradually began to lose its picturesque quality. When the new City Hall was built opposite the Parade the produce sellers transferred their activities to that area, and with the introduction of the motor-car, Greenmarket Square became a bleak, uninteresting parking area. Recently, however, the City Council took the laudable step of prohibiting parking and restoring to the square something of its erstwhile restfulness.
Proclaimed 1961
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Catalogue: Rennie, Vol 2, No: 056.04, Significance Category:


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