Bloemfontein Tourist Attractions
Bloemfontein, the "city of roses" and Boer stronghold, is capital of the Free State and its economic and cultural center. As the seat of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court it is also South Africa's judicial capital.
Thanks to its central situation it has developed into a hub of road and rail traffic, with the largest railroad workshops in the country. It is a university town (university founded 1855) and above all an administrative center: over 40% of the employed population work in state, semi-state or social organizations and other offices. Apart from this the main contribution is made to the town's economy by light industry (furniture, glass, foodstuffs).Bloemfontein lies in the central plain of the highveld, a semi-arid region, with Naval Hill rising above it to the northeast. Predominantly a modern city, with a number of historic buildings, monuments and museums, it is a good center from which to explore the Free State and a convenient stopover on a journey between the Cape and the adjoining provinces. It is not a place for a long stay.The Bloemfontein Rose Festival is held annually in the third week in October.The J. B.M. Hertzog Airport, 8km/5mi east of the city, has regular flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town. There is no bus service between the airport and the city, but many car rental firms have desks at the airport and there are also taxis. The railroad station is in Maitland. The first large voortrekker encampment north of the Orange River was established about 1836 near the present-day settlement of Thaba'Nchu. In 1840, a little to the west, a Boer named Johannes Brits built a farm which he called Bloemfontein ("Flower Fountain") after a nearby spring surrounded by a profusion of flowers. A year later the British authorities bought his farm for £37 and established a garrison and an administrative center on the site. Bloemfontein developed into a small town, which in 1854 became capital of the newly founded Orange Free State, then with a population of just 12,000. It now extended from the banks of the Bloemspruits River to the Bloemfonteinberg (Naval Hill), northeast of the town. During the Boer War there was hard fighting for possession of Bloemfontein, and the town was bombarded by British artillery on the Bloemfonteinberg. After the establishment of the Union of South Africa Bloemfontein became the third capital of the country, after Pretoria and Cape Town.The discovery of gold in the Welkom-Odendaalsrus-Virginia area in 1946, large deposits ranking with those of the Witwatersrand among the richest in the world, brought an economic boom to the Orange Free State and to Bloemfontein.Ironically, this Boer stronghold was also the birthplace of the African National Congress. Leaders of the black population met here in 1912 to protest against the establishment of the Union of South Africa, which denied them the vote, and founded the South African Native National Congress, predecessor of the ANC.Bloemfontein was the birthplace of the writer J. R. R. Tolkien, though he spent only the first four years of his life here. He died in Bournemouth, England.Bloemfontein fully justifies its name of "Flower Fountain", with numerous parks and gardens encircling the city center. The main business and shopping street is Maitland Street, which runs west into President Brand Street.
Bloemfontein City Hall
Opposite the National Museum is the City Hall designed by Sir Gordon Leithe, 1935, which is decorated with Italian marble and intarsia work in Burmese wood.
To the northeast the central area extends almost to Naval Hill, which is reached on a street branching off Union Avenue. Since 1930 this low hill has been occupied by the Franklin Nature Reserve (area 250ha/620ac), with antelopes, zebras and giraffes.From Naval Hill there is a fine view of the city. Also on the hill is the former Lamont Hussey Observatory, now converted into a theater. The large white sculpture of a horse on the east side of the hill was set up during the Boer War and served as a landmark for the British cavalry
In King's Park, which was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1925, is a rose garden with over 4,000 rose bushes. An arts and crafts market is held here on the first Saturday in every month.The western part of the King's Park is occupied by Bloemfontein Zoo. The most unusual inhabitant is a "liger", a cross between an African lion and a Bengal tiger.
The Queen's Fort, originally established on this site in 1848 was rebuilt shortly before the outbreak of the Boer War. It is now occupied by the Military Museum, which illustrates the role of the South African army in the two world wars. There are also displays of weapons, including the legendary Mauser, and photographs of the 1914 rebellion.
Sand du Plessis Theatre
The Sand du Plessis Theatre (1985), with 950 seats, is the venue throughout the year for opera, ballet, drama and concerts.
H. F. Verwoerd Building
The H. F. Verwoerd Building has brilliant stained glass windows composed of over 17,000 pieces of glass.
President Swart Park
The city center is bounded on the west by two parks, President Swart Park and the King's Park. In President Swart Park are the Free State Stadium, with seating for 35,000 spectators, the venue for major sporting events, as well as a heated swimming pool, tennis courts, playgrounds and a camping site.
Oliewenhuis Art Gallery
In a Cape Dutch mansion is the Oliewenhuis Art Gallery, a satellite of the National Museum in Bloemfontein. The Oliewenhuis concentrates exclusively on South African art ranging from the old masters to contemporary paintings and sculpture.
National Women's Memorial
This 37m/120ft high obelisk on the south side of Bloemfontein commemorates the 26,000 women and children who died in British concentration camps during the Boer War. In the base of the monument is an urn containing the ashes of Emily Hobhouse, an Englishwoman who campaigned for better treatment of the internees.
War Museum of the Boer Republics
War Museum of the Boer Republics is dedicated to the Boer forces which took part in the Boer War. The exhibits include weapons and other objects of the period.
Outside of Bloemfontein's city center are the Botanic Gardens and the holiday center of Maselspoort.
At Bloemfontein's Botanical Gardens (area 45ha/110ac) visitors can get a general picture of the vegetation of the highveld. Also of interest are the petrified tree trunks many millions of years old. Part of the area is a carefully tended park, with a lake, but in by far the larger part the natural vegetation has been left as it was.
Soetdoring Nature Reserve
On the Modder River is the Soetdoring Nature Reserve. Within its area of 4,117ha/10,170ac, which includes Krugersdrif Dam, live large numbers of water birds and other wild life, including lions and cheetahs which have recently been reintroduced.
Map of Bloemfontein Attractions