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Built in tribute to the French Huguenots who arrived from France in the 17th century, the Huguenot Memorial Monument in Franschhoek in the Western Cape Province stands at the end of the town, a reminder of the major contribution made by these persecuted men and women.
It was in 1685 that the Dutch Governor Simon van der Stel agreed to accept 176 Huguenot refugees fleeing from religious persecution in France. Being a vintner himself, van der Stel recognised that the French could assist in improving the wine industry in South Africa and allocated land to them in a valley which he called Franschhoek (French Corner). The Huguenots cleared the land, planted vines and the result is a flourishing wine industry in this region.
The Huguenot Memorial Monument was built to commemorate the 250 years of the Huguenot’s arrival and is surrounded by beautiful gardens, an excellent place to reflect and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. The monument itself is worth studying, as it represents many things; the 3 arches represent the Holy Trinity while the woman adorned with broken chains and bible in hand signifies freedom of religious expression. It’s often said that the figure of the women is that of Marie Antoinette, however this is not the case.
Alongside the monument is a museum that houses artefacts relating to Huguenot history. The rooms contain period furniture and refreshments are served from a small coffee shop on the patio. The museum building is a replica of an old stately Cape Town manor house.
The Dutch were meticulous in their record keeping and the museum offices across the road can be visited for those seeking archive material relevant to the original 176 refugees and their family lines. Many of the surrounding wine farms are still in the hands of family members.
Interestingly, the French Huguenots would plant stone pines at homes of welcoming and like-minded brethren, and these trees are spread throughout the Cape region.