Prince Albert’s Architectural Gems

One of the best ways to appreciate Prince Albert’s wide open spaces is to walk its streets. Some tarred, others dusty. Here one can still marvel at yesteryear’s ingenious technology, where leiwater, along a clever system of gravity-fed furrows, still flow alongside the streets to be captured in dams, for watering orchards and gardens, and provide entertainment for the local children.

On one of my walks, a group of young children laughed and ran along one of the furrows in a tangle of lean, brown limbs. They briefly interrupted their chase of whatever was bobbing along the water to wave and smile at me. My heart rejoiced as I watched their antics. Clearly not all children are not permanently glued to an electronic device.

Cape Dutch style gables, Victorian architecture with its distinctive broekie lace (decorative iron friezes) detail, and quaint Karoo style houses vie for attention, and my brisk morning walks were often halted abruptly so that I could drink in their beauty and lift my camera in appreciation.

The typical Karoo style houses, with their prominent facades, flat roofs, and covered stoepe (verandahs/porches) reflect the essence of this arid, dry region, with scorching summer days, and freezing winter nights. I adore a covered stoep. Not only is it essential for keeping out the harsh sunlight, but it is a wonderful place for that first cup of coffee in the morning, and to enjoy the sultry summer evenings, or the magnificence of millions of glittering stars on moonless nights. The painted shutters, on the other hand, not only add beauty and character to the houses, but also ensure a reprieve from hot days, while providing added warmth during cold nights. Built from local materials such as stone and handmade bricks, and plastered with mud, these houses still stand proud and regal under an endless blue sky.

Before corrugated iron roofing sheets became available in the late 1800’s, these houses had brakdakkies; gently sloping alkaline clay roofs with ceilings of thick, wooden beams and reeds. Sadly, none of these roofs remain, as they have been replaced with either thatch or corrugated iron sheets.

The west side of Church Street, which is the main street and thorough fair through town, is lined with ‘nagmaal huisies‘, once used by the farmers of the area on those occasions when they came to town to attend to business, church services and communion. Church Street is still the most important street in town, welcoming the stream of tourists that flow through it, enticing them to linger with quirky shops, restaurants and various accommodation options.