Greenmarket Square

As we walk down Burg Street, we enter the hustle & bustle of Greenmarket Square.

With the natural expansion of the City during the seventeenth century a number of streets came into existence above fashionable Sea Street (Strand Street). These streets, with their modern names, were: Heere Street (Castle Street), Rijger Street (Shortmarket 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 where the citizens obtained water.

In the course of time, when the square became the administrative and social centre of the town, 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 (Old Town House) whose history is inextricably interwoven with that of Greenmarket Square.

During the early 1730’s thatch-roofed dwellings, in Town, began to disappear and in their place flat-roofed houses of one, two and three stories were erected. Single-storey houses, fronted by a long stoep, and with steps that gave access from the street, lined the square. These houses had a stable-type front door, multi-paned windows and a centre gable. Interior floors were either red tiles from Batavia, or Robben Island slate. The walls were whitewashed with shell lime and the roofs were made of bricks laid with lime mortar and covered with paving tiles, which were waterproofed with a coating of fish. To allow the rainwater to flow off the roofs into the road, passages four feet wide were left between houses. Houses were generally of a narrow frontage, and considerable depth.

The better type of house resembled in many ways the Koopmans de Wet House in Strand Street.

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.

By 1845 nearly all the single-storied buildings round the square had been replaced by taller ones. Greenmarket Square itself was the business centre where buying and selling took place. Wagons and carts for hire stood there. Their tariffs were fixed by municipal regulations. On the southwestern side of the square the trained workmen, messengers and porters waited to be hired. 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 Twentieth 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. With the introduction of the motorcar, Greenmarket Square became a bleak, uninteresting parking area. Today the square is once again a hive of activity, with dozens of stalls selling a large variety of mostly traditional goods. The square is surrounded by beautifull buildings of different artitectural eras, like the gothic Metropolitan Methodist church, the art deco Namaqua House, Kimberley House and Market House and the impressive Park Inn Hotel. In order to prevent high-rise encroachment, the facades of these buildings have been included in the declaration of the square as a monument.

Proclaimed a National monument 1961

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