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South Africa Holiday: Bloemfontein

Bloemfontein, ("spring of bloom" or "flower spring" in Afrikaans), is popularly known as "the city of roses". The Sesotho name for the local municipality is Mangaung meaning "Place of the Cheetahs."

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Although Bloemfontein has a reputation for its flowers, particularly the abundance of roses at the annual rose festival, it is situated in an otherwise arid region.
Speculation has it that Bloemfontein's name was derived from the large number of flowers that grew around an old fountain or spring on a farm which belonged to a Voortrekker named Johannes Nicolaas Brits.
While for Brits the requirements were sufficient water and fertile soil, it was Major Henry Douglas Warden, the British Resident in Griqua territory, who in 1846 chose to settle in the centrally situated spot in the vast, dry plains. It was due to the absence of horse sickness, the spacious open country and the close proximity of the main route to Winburg that this was considered an ideal situation. At that time the region was occupied by various groups of peoples including  Trek Boers from the Cape, Griqua and Basotho.
Between 1848 and 1854 the region was called the Orange River Sovereignty and then from 1854 to 1902 the Orange Free State Republic. From 1902 to 1910 Bloemfontein served as the capital of the Orange River Colony, and from 1910 as the provincial capital of the Orange Free State (known simply as the Free State since the first free elections in 1994).
In 1899, the city was the site of the Bloemfontein Conference, which failed to prevent the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War. The conference was a final attempt to avert a war between Britain and the Transvaal; with its failure the stage was set for the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).
The rail line from Cape Town, built in  1890, proved to be of critical importance to the British in capturing and occupying the city. On 13 March 1900 the British forces captured the city and built a concentration camp nearby to house captured women and children. The National Women's Memorial, on the outskirts of the city, pays homage to the 45,000 women and children, including up to 17,000 Africans, who died in these camps.
With the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, Bloemfontein became the "judicial capital" of South Africa and the seat of the highest court in the land, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
On 8 January 1912 the South African Native National Congress (renamed in 1926 the African National Congress) held its first conference in Bloemfontein, and Sol Plaatje was elected its first General Secretary.
Graceful charm is to be seen all along the historic tree-lined President Brand Street, a declared national monument. Stately museum buildings stand proudly visible at the ends of the bustling main streets in the business district, while small monuments and memorials are preserved, even in built-up suburbs.
Today, compared to many other major cities, Bloemfontein provides a peaceful atmosphere which is almost tangible.
Historical buildings of interest include:
  • City Hall - A stately sandstone building designed by Sir Gordon Leith
  • Anglican Cathedral - Major Henry Warden, founder of Bloemfontein, laid the foundation of the Victorian building in 1850.
  • First Raadsaal - this modest building of dung floors and a thatched roof was erected by Major Warden in 1849
  • Old Government Building - A fine piece of Cape Dutch architecture, housing the National Afrikaans Museum
  • The Fountain the charming fountain from which the city is named now features a mosaic of the city's emblem
Other areas of interest in Bloemfontein include:
  • Naval Hill - an extremely popular hill providing an excellent view of the town. The Franklin Game Reserve forms part of the hill.
  • Loch Logan Waterfront
    Is an innovative waterfront-style project offering many shops and restaurants overlooking Loch Logan
  • State President Swart Park - the largest of Bloemfontein's many recreational spots, with many sculptured flowerbeds, rolling lawns and shady spots
  • "Die Volksblad" Arts & Crafts Market, Kings Park on the 1st Saturday of every month. An excellent opportunity to buy African curios, with sellers coming from all over southern Africa
  • MACuFe - the Mangaung African Cultural Festival, held in Bloemfontein. Fondly known as the place to be when your heart and soul are Africa, the festival is staged annually during the first ten days of October.
Bloemfontein is home to the modern Universitas Hospital, renowned for its high standards. It serves as a training base for the medical faculty of the University of the Free State.

J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien, author of "Lord of the Rings", was born in Bloemfontein on 3 January 1892.
His family left South Africa while he was still a child, following the death of his father, Arthur Tolkien, in 1896. He recorded that his earliest memories were of "a hot country".
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