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Early Farmsteads of the Cape Winelands

Date of Submission: 15/04/2015
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Department of Environmental Affairs of the Republic of South Africa
State, Province or Region:
Western Cape
Coordinates: S 34 01 51 69 E 18 25 07 92
Ref.: 6049

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The Cape Winelands is situated in the extreme south-western corner of the African continent in the immediate vicinity of Cape Town, the capital of the Western Cape Province, one of nine provinces of the Republic of South Africa.

Overview of the early development of agriculture and interest in the botanical richness of the Cape of Good Hope :  At the onset of globalisation, the Cape of Good Hope was established in 1652 as a victualling station for the Dutch East India Company to supply its fleets sailing to and from the East Indies.  Fresh water and meat supplies as well as vegetables and fruit were essential to sustain the trading ventures and gardens were laid on.  Soon, however, the interest in the botanical and medicinal qualities of the Cape botanical richness triggered interests in the Netherlands and plants, seeds, bulbs and cuttings were regularly supplied to the botanical and medical gardens of cities and private collectors.  The earliest agricultural calendar to guide farming activities at the Cape was compiled early in the 18th century by WA van der Stel, owner of Vergelegen.

Overview of the development of the wine industry in the Cape :  Together with three soil types - granite, shale and sandstone - the mediterranean climate of the Western Cape, influenced by maritime conditions and mountainous terroir, is viticulturally ideal for growing good grapes.  The first vines at the Cape were planted in 1655 in the Company Gardens at the foot of Table Mountain to provide the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) fleets with fresh produce, water and wine for their long voyages to the East Indies and Europe.  After the small land grants along the Amsel (now the Liesbeeck) River on the slopes of Table Mountain were made to the first nine Free Burghers in 1657, more vines were planted.  Barely two years later, on 2 February 1659, the first wine was produced at the Cape. By 1680 governor Simon van der Stel planted more than 100,000 vines in the Constantia valley.  After the French king Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, some 150 Huguenots and their families came to the Cape and from 1688 were given land grants, primarily in the Upper Berg River valley.  These Protestant refugees brought with them the knowledge of viticulture, which helped to promote and advance the economic prosperity of the Cape.  From 1761, Constantia regularly exported red and white wines to Europe.

When the British took control of the Cape in 1795, the wine trade and brandy production boomed and a dramatic rise in wine export occurred during the first half of the 19th century. However, by 1861 Great Britain and France entered into a trade agreement and the subsequent lowered import tariffs on French wine imported into Britain negatively impacted on Cape wine exports.  To make things worse, the phylloxera louse (Phylloxera vastatrix) created havoc in the Cape winelands from 1885 after decimating vineyards in Europe. 

After the end of the Second South African War (1899-1902), vineyards were re-established with vines grafted onto imported phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. In 1906, the first South African wine co-operatives were formed in response to the depression in the wine and spirit industry. Regulations for cultivation and prices were established, followed by a quota system to curb over-production. This was followed by the formation of the cooperative companies such as the Ko-operatiewe Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid-Afrika Beperkt (KWV) in 1918. In 1924 an American doctor, Jack Winshaw, and a local farmer began producing natural wine. In 1935 the Stellenbosch Farmers' Wineries was registered as a public company, followed in 1945 by the establishment of the Distillers Corporation. The dawn of a democratic South African society at the end of the 20th century also heralded the abolishment of the over-controlled wine industry and the introduction of black empowerment initiatives in the wine industry.

Development of the Cape vernacular architecture:  From the outset, and following the example of the indigenous San (hunters) and Khoekhoe (gatherers), the settlement at the Cape were dependent on the availability of local materials to build shelter. A limited amount of building materials, such as hard timber and floor tiles, were imported from Madagascar, Mauritius, the East Indies and the Netherlands. Stone was quarried and sun-dried bricks were made to build walls. Indigenous trees in the forests on the slopes of the Cape mountains were felled and hand-sawed into beams, rafters, doors and window frames, while the readily-available reeds (restio) of the Cape fynbos were used as thatching material for roofs. The Cape limekilns were stacked with seashells from the beaches or, further into the interior, with local limestone to produce lime for building purposes. Exotic tree species, such as the oak (Quercus rubur), bamboo and poplar, were planted on the farms to supplement the shortage of timber for construction purposes. 

Some of the characteristic elements of the Cape vernacular architecture were established during the visit to the Cape in 1685 of a High Commissioner of the DEIC who gave instructions to the then Governor that all new buildings of the Company at the Cape had to be constructed with local stone at least up to window-sill height, had to be plastered and then limewashed to protect it from the notorious Cape winter weather (there was not enough timber available at the Cape to produce hard-baked bricks) and low walls were to be built to connect buildings and structures to create an enclosed farmstead that resembled a Dutch "hofstede". This was the origin of the ring-walled farmsteads and DEIC outposts that dot the Cape Winelands. Even the Governor applied these instructions and he added to them the latest mathematical and scientific principles from Europe to personally set out his own estate, Constantia, and at least one outpost of the Company, Vergelegen. It was also here that a wide variety of exotic fruits and vegetables, sourced from all over the globe, were planted as experiments that laid the basis of the commercial agricultural development in South Africa.

By 1692 more land grants were allocated to Free Burghers and freed black slaves.  Following the prosperity that the 18th century brought to the Cape, farmsteads, originally simple and basic utilitarian, acquired gables - the earliest dated from the mid-18th century. These gables, both front and back gables as well as end gables, were usually decorated with plaster elements. However, two farmsteads stood out as the idealised farmsteads, i.e. Constantia and Vergelegen. During the latter part of the 18th century, Cape Town was known as "Little Paris".

From the 1690s until 1815, more than 63,000 slaves and political exiles, originally from the East Indies (approximately 50%), the Far East (less than 1%) slaves from the Coromandel and Malabar coasts of the Indian subcontinent (approximately 25%) and from the rest of Africa, Mauritius and Madagascar (24%) were brought to the Cape. At the same time sailors, soldiers, craftsmen, labourers and Company officials originating from Europe also set foot at the Cape. Many were skilled craftsmen and women and were instrumental in the development, interpretation and the decorations found on the Cape's vernacular architecture, reflecting the cultural diversity of the artisans, the owners and the stylistic influences assembled from Africa, Europe and Asia.  Some farmers had teams of slave artisans specialising in crafts related to the building trade, such as plasterers, thatchers, ironmongers and carpenters.  Others were talented cabinetmakers or silversmiths who crafted furniture and utensils that filled the homesteads. Only a few of these talents are known by name, in most cases Cape vernacular architecture has the anonymous yet individual signatures of individuals who meticulously worked on the elements that make up the whole - sometimes sophisticated, sometimes naive. The Cape vernacular architecture even triggered a Revival Cape Dutch movement during the 20th century throughout Southern Africa.   

Much of the documentation related to both the history of the viticulture, the development of a vernacular architecture and slave history is included in the holdings of the Western Cape Archives, which is included in the VOC Archives inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

At the southern point of Africa, at the onset of globalisation, enriched by influences accumulated from various continents, natural elements suited for agriculture and more specifically viticulture, and situated in a dramatic natural environment where a specific vernacular architecture developed, a new cultural landscape evolved . With its vineyards, orchards and fields, farmsteads and outbuildings, settlements, villages and towns nestling on the slopes of the Cape’s mountains or on the plains along water courses, the Cape Winelands illustrates the impact of human settlement, labour  practices (including  that of slaves) and agricultural activities since colonialization in the mid-17th century on the natural landscape

The two earliest examples of an idealised farmstead envisaged and contextualised within their agricultural landscapes are Constantia and Vergelegen.  Both evolved since their establishment in the late 17th century but retained the elements that typified their origins.

Criterion (ii): The Cape Winelands exhibits an important interchange of human values and influences and retains an active social role in contemporary society associated with the traditional way of life of the wine industry, and in which the evolutionary process is still in progress, as is illustrated in the developments towards the end of the 20th century.  At the same time it exhibits significant material evidence in the development of the Cape vernacular architecture and the formation and development of a cultural landscape design in the evolution of the economic development thereof over time. 

Criterion (iii): The Cape Winelands bears testimony to a cultural tradition, which is living and evolving.  This includes the development of a new indigenous language, i.e. Afrikaans. The Cape Winelands illustrates the impact of human settlement and agricultural activities and more specifically the production of the Cape wines over a period of more than 360 years on the natural landscape. 

Criterion (iv): The vernacular architecture of traditional farmsteads of the Cape were developed through the influence of 17th and 18th century construction methods, building materials, stylistic inspirations, settlement patterns, economic aspirations and cultural interaction between people of diverse cultural backgrounds, such as European settlers, slaves from the East Indies, the Indian subcontinent, Africa and indigenous Khoekhoe.

At the beginning of the 20th century the Cape vernacular style inspired the typology of a revival Cape vernacular style still apparent in many towns and cities across South Africa.

Criterion (v): The land grants of the early Cape farms illustrated the evolution of a human society, land-use and settlement over time in the Cape Winelands, under the influence of and in interaction with the physical constraints and opportunities presented by the natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces that were moulded here from four continents.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The historic farmsteads and vineyards meets the criteria to be included in the proposed nomination are protected as provincial heritage resources or in terms of provisions in terms of national legislation (the National Heritage Resources Act, 1999 (Act 25 of 1999). Province. 

Comparison with other similar properties

Several existing World Heritage sites will be analysed and compared.  These include agrarian and more specific vineyard cultural landscapes. Guidance from information and expert meetings, including reports of ICOMOS will be consulted.  They include:

Cultural and agricultural landscapes situated on islands: (Island of Pico, Azores, inscribed in 2004); the Stari Grad Plain on the Adriatic island of Hvar in Croatia (inscribed in 2008); the Agricultural Landscape of the southern part of the island Öland in the Baltic Sea  in Sweden (inscribed in 2000); the St Kilda volcanic archipelago, with its spectacular landscapes, is situated off the coast of the Hebrides of the United Kingdom (inscribed in 2005) and the proposed Curaçao Cultural Landscape Plantation System in the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean.

Cultural landscapes situated along the coast or adjacent to lakes: The Fertö/Neusiedlersee area in the Burgenland region of Austria and the adjacent Hungary (inscribed in 2001); the Costiera Almafitana in Italy (inscribed in 1997); the Ligurian coast in Italy between Cinque Terre and Portovenere (1997), the Lavaux Vineyard Landscape in Switzerland (inscribed in 2007)

Cultural landscapes along rivers and valleys:  Alto Douro Region in Portugal (inscribed in 2001), the Wachau Cultural Landscape situated along a stretch of the Danube Valley of Austria (inscribed in 2000); the Loire Valley between Chalonnes and Sully-sur-Loire in France (inscribed in 2000); the Middle Rhine Valley in Germany (inscribed in 2002)

Regional cultural landscapes:  The Tokai Wine Region Cultural Landscape in Hungary and Slovakia (inscribed in 2002); the he Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion in Aquitaine (inscribed in 1999); the Langhe, Roero, Monferrato and Valtellina in Lombardie and Monts-Sacrés du Piémont in Italy (inscribed in 2014) and the Champagne Vineyards and the Vignoble des côtes de Nuits et de Beaune (included on the Tentative List of France.

Other World Heritage sites that have strong elements of shared heritage include Paramaribo in Suriname, the 19th century coffee plantations in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra in Cuba, the 16th century Portuguese settlement of Galle in Sri Lanka and in particular the Canals of Amsterdam (inscribed in 2010).

Global Strategy Gaps Analysis:  At the World Heritage Global Strategy for Natural and Cultural Heritage Expert Meeting, held in Amsterdam in the Netherlands in 1998, ICOMOS proposed, inter alia, that a study on cultural landscapes in Southern Africa be undertaken under the theme Intellectual Development of the Convention. It was again stressed that cultural landscapes and living cultures are still underrepresented on the World Heritage List.

Land ownership: The properties proposed to be included in the nomination are privately owned and the owners are closely associated with and positive about the nomination.

Management structure: A proposed Joint Management Committee will be established to ensure a coordinated approach towards the implementation of the Integrated Conservation Management Plan.

Stakeholder Meetings: A number of stakeholder meetings have been held in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2014 and 2015.

Budgetary matters: The management and maintenance of the properties to be included in the nomination are fully funded by the respective owners and extensive individual management structures and processes are in place.

Site readiness: The preparation of the nomination dossier has progress to the point where a first draft of the nomination dossier has been completed and is currently being finalised.  Work has commenced on the development of the proposed Integrated Conservation Management Plan.