History of Paarl

Paarl is the 3rd European settlement in South Africa. The story of this town goes back to October 1657, when Abraham Gabbema, instructed by Jan van Riebeeck, left the Cape in search of cattle to be bartered from the Khoi who at the time moved further in land away from the coast. Gabbema wrote in his diary about the kloof “lying between the ‘Diamond’ and ‘Pearl’ Mountains”.

This was the first reference to the granite formations of Paarl glistening in the sun after a heavy night’s rain. The word pearl in Dutch is “parel”, hence the name of the town Paarl today.

Only 30 years later, in 1687, about 50 Dutch colonists settled in the valley to be followed, a year afterwards, by the French Huguenots.  The establishment of a congregation and the building of the first church in Paarl in 1720 were the first signs of a brand new town. Back in the day, a town begin with the building of a church.

Paarl can boast with the oldest church still in use in the country: The “Strooidak Church” or Thatched Roof Church completed in 1805, on the site of the original building which had served the town for 77 years. The parsonage of the old church has been turned into the Oude Pastorie Museum and today Paarl Museum.

The Khoi and the San

They were the first people to utilize the Drakenstein area. What is known today as Paarl Mountain, used to be called Tortoise Mountain by the KhoiKhoi. The Berg River Valley formed the traditional border between the coastal KhoiKhoi (the Gorachoqua and the Goringhaiqua) and the Cochoqua. The latter group moved their cattle around the various grazing areas of the Berg River- and Drakenstein Valley. The Cochoqua was one of the richest and strongest of the Khoi tribes and had between 16 000 and 18 000 members. They were defeated during the second war between the colonists and KhoiKhoi and most of their livestock were taken. After the deaths of their leaders, the rest of the tribe dispersed. Some moved further inland and the rest started working for the colonists.

The people of Paarl are descendants of the Khoi-khoi and San, African-, and Eastern slaves, Dutch, French Huguenots, Jewish immigrants for Eastern Europe, Italian Prisoners of War and Xhosa migrant labourers.