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Email: info@vassa.org.za

Website: www.vassa.org.za


During the seventeenth century Cape Town expanded for the most part from the sea towards Table Mountain, along the axis of the Heerengracht or Adderley Street. During the eighteenth century it began to fill Table Valley. This square was situated on the outermost street of the City, on Buitengracht Street. It was first known as “Boeren Plijn”, then as “Hottentot Plijn and finally as Riebeeck Square. These three names reflect the history of the square.

In the olden days the roads from the interior joined at a point somewhere east of the Castle and the wagons with their long spans of oxen all had to pass through a tollgate. At first the farmers outspanned their wagons anywhere, but soon they had to be properly controlled.

They trekked past the Castle and up Sea Street (now Strand Street) to this large square, which thus acquired the name of “Boeren Plijn.

However, inroads were made on the Square during the first British occupation of the Cape. In the middle of the square on the Bree Street side stands South Africa’s first theatre, originally known as The African Theatre. lt was designed by the architect Louis Thibault and built in 1801 by Sir George Yonge. Lady Anne Barnard often visited this theatre. Today it is a Dutch Reformed Church known as St. Stephens; the balcony and stage can still be seen.

Meanwhile the square lost its original function and name. In 1812 a new market was established immediately east of the Castle where the farmers now outspanned their wagons and conducted their business. The “Boeren Plijn” gradually became known as Hottentot Square, a name, which appeared for the first time on a plan of Cape Town, prepared by Geo Thompson in 1827. 

In the 1860’s it was re-named Riebeeck Square in honour of the Dutch commander of the VOC settlement of the Cape. By this time, too, it had become much smaller and, to prevent any further encroachments, it was proclaimed as a national monument on l7th February 1961.



Once destined to be a parking garage, the Bree/Shortmarket block in central Cape Town has now taken on a new guise, Heritage Square.

In the largest project of its type undertaken in the Mother City, the group of eighteenth century town houses, associated outbuildings and a warehouse has been restored by the Cape Town Heritage Trust and Shortmarket Properties. The restored complex includes a fifteen bedroom hotel, restaurants, retail outlets, offices and an operating blacksmith.

The evolution of the saga of the Bree/Shortmarket restoration project has its origins in a proposal to develop an extensive ring road system for the city. This proposed scheme would have entailed the demolition of the entire Bree/Shortmarket block, for a parking garage, as well as numerous old buildings on Hout and Shortmarket Streets, to allow for road-widening.

There was considerable opposition to the proposed Buitengracht Freeway and the demolition of the various buildings concerned, principally from the Simon van der Stel Foundation and the Institute of Architects, but with vociferous support from City Councillor Joan Kantey and various journalists, including Victor Holloway. A re-appraisal of the supporting planning criteria, and a recognition of the need to conserve the buildings, led to the abandonment of the proposed parking garage and road-widening scheme.

The Cape Town Heritage Trust was set up in 1987 and fourteen properties in Hout, Shortmarket, Loop and Long Streets acquired by the City Council in connection with the scheme donated to the Trust. Lengthy negotiations with the City Council led to the donation of the council-owned properties on the Bree/Shortmarket block in 1996. The agreement of the Provincial Administration, which had contributed 80% on the cost of acquiring the properties, to the envisaged scheme was critical and did much to make the project possible. 

(Cape Town Heritage Trust website)