Friday, May 30, 2008

The Friendly City

South Africa's Port Elizabeth (in contrast to the one in New Jersey, USA) is known by various names, e.g. a "Settler City", the "Windy City" but also as the "Friendly City" or "iBhayi"(= "the bay" by Xhosa speakers). In 1820, about 4 000 British settlers landed here in what was then known as Algoa Bay but recently was renamed Nelson Mandela Bay (or Metropole). When these settlers arrived, they were allocated farms by Sir Rufane Donkin (the acting Govenor of the Cape Colony at the time).

This photo (right) is what I think of as a Bird's eye-view of PE - as seen through the window of an aeroplane. Visible are the harbour, the Humewood and Pollock beaches, Cape Recife (extremity, left) and "around the corner" Noordhoek towards Sardinia Bay bordering the Indian Ocean. "Below us" is the Nelson Mandela Bay.

When approaching the city centre from the Humewood side, one can't miss these over a hundred-year-old and attractively restored Victorian-style buildings (photo left). The Feather Market Centre (pink building on the right) was built during the ostrich boom to host auction sales in ostrich feathers. Recently, the building was refurbished and converted into a concert hall and conference centre.

Opposite the restored Feather Market (and behind the City Hall) is to me, one of the most interesting monuments - the Prester John Memorial, dedicated to the mythical king-priest and the Portuguese explorers, who discovered South Africa. It is said to be the only monument in the world depicting Prester John.

Did you know that Prester (priest) John is believed to be a descendant of the 3 wise men (in the Bible)? It was a common belief at the time that Prester John ruled a vast and prosperous Christian kingdom - thought to be Ethiopia. The Portuguese explorers were sent by Prince Henry, the Navigator, to find the spice islands and possibly join forces with Prester John to control the spice trade from the east.

Trivia: opting for the sea-route to the east meant rounding the by then unknown southern regions of the African continent. It was an "enforced" option, because the land-route to the Far East was blocked by Turkish forces, who had invaded and then controlled Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453.

The City Hall (left), was completed in 1862, whilst the attractive clock tower was added a few years later. Today it's a national monument and a fine example of the Roman revival style in Victorian architecture. The building was restored to its original "glory" after it was badly damaged by a devastating fire in 1977.

The Main Public Library (right) was used for a while as a courthouse before the present library was officially opened in 1902. The beautiful facade was transported from England in numbered pieces and assembled in PE. The Sicilian-marble statue of Queen Victoria (in front of the building) was unveiled in 1903.

Trivia: various statues of Queen Victoria were erected during her long reign in colonial times to "adorn" public buildings in South African cities, e.g. another one in front of the parliament buildings in Cape Town.

The Edward Hotel (left) is one of PE's landmarks and part of the city's heritage. As a result of careful maintenance, the hotel retains its distinctive Edwardian style.

In front of the Edward Hotel stretches the open space of the Donkin Reserve. It was named after Sir Rufane Donkin, who had a stone pyramid erected in loving memory of his late wife, Elizabeth, who had died from fever in India, and after whom he named the city. The old 15 000 candle-power lighthouse next to the pyramid was built in 1861 and still serves as a beacon for ships entering the Nelson Mandela Bay.

The Donkin Street Houses are a fine example of Victorian architecture, which had a "face-lift" in the 1960's. The 18 terraced houses date back to the 1850's and form part of the the historical heritage of PE. Although declared national monuments, they are these days in serious need of repair - which makes me glad I took this photo (above) before they started to deteriorate. Is the PE city council listening?

I think of the Cape Recife (= "cape of the reef") Nature Reserve as one of the best water-bird watching locations in the country, never mind PE. The Reserve also offers natural dune vegetation (fynbos), rocky outcrops, magnificent sandy beaches, the remains of a World War II military observation post, a 24m high octagonal lighthouse and a beacon (the latter 2 visible on my photo during low tide).

Sunset over the Nelson Mandela Bay and King's Beach, where in 1947, the visiting King George VI, his wife, Queen Elizabeth, the 2 young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, and the rest of the royal party, swam. I haven't managed to determine so far if it was called King's Beach in honour of this occasion!?

[If you wish to obtain more information on the history of Port Elizabeth then you might want to log onto the following site:]

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