It was Jan van Riebeeck who named the area behind Devil's Peak "Het Ronde Doornbosjen" after a round cluster of trees, possibly near a Khoi stockade, on the hillock where St Paul's Church sits today. For many years the various peoples of the Cape followed a wagon track to these fertile lands: a track which, amazingly, lay much where Main Rd is today.
In the book Old Cape Highways, the author Dr. Mossop recognised that "it is now beyond doubt that when we travel the Main Road to the suburbs by Sir Lowry Road, Observatory and Rosebank, we are, as far as the hillock at Rondebosch, upon the very carriage routes of Van Riebeeck's wood-cutters".
After Van Riebeeck praised the area's potential for growing fruit and vegetables for the VOC, the Council of Seventeen allowed the first nine "free burghers" in 1657 to farm the land on either side of the Liesbeek River.
In the years that followed, more grants were extended and more farms developed, including Groote Schuur and Rustenburg, which were government owned.
Rondebosch property, as it would come to be known, was one of the first ‘domesticated' suburbs in South Africa. The style of the public buildings and larger houses of the wealthy burghers was either classic Dutch or Baroque. Hendrick Boom's house at Coornhoop was described as "a very good house" costing a princely sum as the house prices went in those days. A decade later, in December 1666, the Admiral of the French Fleet, Monsieur de Monde Vergne, described Rustenburg, the Company's Country House, as "well-built and very sumptuously furnished".
In 1705 Peter Kolbe, an astronomer, arrived at the Cape to make observations. His description of the quaint gardens in Rondebosch needs to be quoted in full. "Several beautiful country seats, vineyards and gardens are to be seen on almost every side of the Table-hill. The Company has here two very spacious, rich and beautiful Gardens. In one of them stands, erected at the Company's Expense, a noble Pleasure- House for the Governor, and near it a beautiful Grove of Oaks, called the Round-Bush from which this Garden takes its Name, being called the Round-Bush garden. The other Garden, which is at some distance from this, is called "New Land" because it was planted much later.
Both these gardens are finely watered by the springs on the Table-Hill..." Not surprisingly, Kolbe would remain at the Cape until 1713. As early as 1729 the first ‘Taps' (retail outlets, perhaps specifically dealing in wine and beer) were opened up in Rondebosch. Prof. Robert Shell's new publication on Rondebosch mentions two 1729 Rondebosch taverns and their bar keepers: the Varietas Delecta[t]s, owned by Anthony Valentijn van Coromandel, and De Brouwerij, owned by GC Opperman. There was also a famous tavern called Die Drie Koppen, where a certain Mr. Behr was murdered by three of his slaves. (The slaves were tortured and on confession were decapitated and their heads placed on poles at the site of the murder.) Although the "town" is scarcely mentioned much before 1811, authorised visits of inspection were conducted to see what conditions the Free Burghers were farming under. It was for this purpose that Commissioner Ryklief van Goens, Governor- General of Batavia, visited the settlement on the Liesbeek and ensured that improved conditions and provision for one of the settlers to be a burgher councillor were made. By the mid-1800s St Paul's old church records show that there were a large volume of gardeners and foreigners well dispersed within the local community. Very few other suburbs can lay claim to the host of famous people as those who built this village from vegetable gardens.
Rondebosch has thrived with botanists, naturalists, poets, astronomers, prime ministers, road builders and even artists like Thomas Bowler frequenting the surrounding area. In 1900, Rondebosch Boys' High School bought Canigou farm. The name given to the home of the previous owner, GTB Twycross, survives at the school; and the girls' school next door bears the name of the other old house on the estate, Oakhurst. In 1849 the Woodlands farm was bought by Bishop Gray for his newly founded school, Diocesan College, which had outgrown its previous premises. As early as 1866, there was a school at Rustenburg, but it was in 1894 that Rustenburg School for Girls opened its doors. The original Rustenberg house where important visitors to the Cape and even important political prisoners (like the Rajah of Tambera, and "other Macassarian exiles of courtly rank") were lodged, was destroyed along with a number of other fine houses in the area, in a fire that swept down from the mountain in the 1850s. Today, Rondebosch is a thriving suburb, much-loved by Capetonians.
The institutions of academic excellence still stand, including South Africa's oldest university and around them cluster the homes of modern Rondbosch residents. Flats house students from all the corners of the globe. Old officers messes ring to the sounds of young families, cottages in the Village are lovingly cared for by little old ladies who've lived here their whole lives, Victorian mansions still grace Silwood, while "sturdily built" '30s houses prop up the Golden Mile... and all around ring the echoes of the past.
The cast iron fountain, manufactured in Glasgow, Scotland, erected on the site in 1891, on Main Road, is considered the historic centre of Rondebosch. It was a horse water trough, with allegedly the first electric street light in Cape Town. However the land around the Liesbeek River was first occupied by Dutch East India Employees in 1657. This area was named Rondebosch after the round "kraal" of thorn bushes. It was only recognized as a suburb after the 1830's. The other landmark for which Rondebosch is well known is Groote Schur. In 1657 construction started on De Schur later known as Groote Schuur. Since 1911, the official residence of the leader of the governing party of South Africa has been situated in Rondebosch. From 1791 to 1911 the official residence had ten different owners, from the Dutch East India Company to Cecil John Rhodes. , who purchased it in 1893 during which time Sir Herbert Baker redesigned the house for Rhodes. State leaders that lived on the property included Louis Botha, Jan Smuts, two terms, Verwoed, PW Botha, De Klerk, Nelson Mandela and currently President Jacob Zuma.
Rondebosch became predominantly English speaking during the 19th and 20th century, this could be attributed to the first Bishop of Cape Town, purchasing fifty acres in Rondebosch to establish a school, in what was slave quarters, he started teaching, the school grew into Diocesan College, known colloquially as "Bishops". The home of the first Governor of the Cape Simon van der Stel was located on what is now Rustenburg Girls School.
Rondebosch has always been known as a liberal constituency and is a very popular suburb for student accommodation, given its close proximity to the University of Cape Town. It is mainly a residential area, with commercial properties located along the Main Road, predominantly in the area of the fountain. There are book shops and a few well known restaurants. There is another small hub of shops along Campground Road, as well as Belvedere Road. The Baxter Theatre complex is situated on Main Road below the University of Cape Town and forms part of the Arts and Drama faculty of the university. Rondebosch lies between the M3 in the west and the M5 in the east, Mowbray and Rosebank in the north and Newlands and Claremont in the south. Many schools are located in the Rondebosch area, Bishops Diocesan College, Rondebosch Boys, Groote Schuur (one of the few Afrikaans schools in the southern suburbs), Rustenburg Girls School, Pro Ed House, and St Joseph Marist College.
The properties closer to the university, in the vicinity of the main road, are more concentrated than the properties east of Campground Road in the vicinity of Bishops. Closer to the university are apartment blocks and streets lined with quaint cottages. The greater Rondebosch area consists of mainly older type family homes. Popular with families who have school going children as well as professionals associated with the university and the Red Cross Children's Hospital.
Although primarily a residential suburb, there are aspects to Rondebosch property that make it a unique location. Rondebosch Common, formally a military campground, now declared a national monument, provides a large open space (40 hectares) for walking, kite flying and the preservation of Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, nine species found on the common are on the Red Data List. Ever popular Rondebosch Golf club borders the suburb. The flower sellers at the fountain are a landmark in their own right, providing indigenous, as well as cultivated, fresh flowers all year long.