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Free State

The Free State lies in the heart of South Africa amidst fields of sunflowers, corn and sheep that are crossed by small country roads which farmers drive with their tractors. You will find many farms and small villages, sometimes with a Dutch Reformed church. Mandela once said about this condition: "No matter what my mood when I am here I feel that nothing can put me down, that my thoughts can roam as far as the horizons ...." The countryside of the granary of South Africa is presented here for miles so no wonder Mandela's thoughts had free rein here to let go. Hospitality is of paramount importance and this rural county is ideal to discover the local traditions while staying on a farm.

There are over 30 000 farms in the Free State and the economy therefore constitutes two-thirds of agricultural and livestock a third. The main export products of Free State are soy, potatoes, sunflowers, cherries and asparagus. For the poor, the mining industry is an important way to generate revenue. Gold mining in Free State began at the end of the 19th century, when it was drilled for water. Gold and diamonds are still found, particularly in the north of the province. Many tourists ignore this province but Free State has still much to offer. Besides endless fields here there are also dense, narrow ravines and mountain streams. East to the Drakensberg the lovely landscape becomes more rugged and can be great for hiking. There are several wildlife and nature parks where many species of wildlife are. Furthermore, the region has a number of important archaeological and paleontological sites.

Climate in the Free State
Summers are warm in the Free State and then the province also has the highest rainfall, between 650 and 450 millimetres in the east and less than 300 millimetres in the west. In winter it can be very cold and throughout the province frosts occur. In the eastern mountains snow may fall in other places sometimes. An average winter temperature is 7°C, in summer is 23°C.

Cities in Free State:
The capital of the province is Bloemfontein, which showcases plenty of wildlife alongside culture in parks and gardens. You can also visit Bloemfontein for the bustling city life; it is in fact a true student town where you can also go to concerts and the theatre. For a truly rural town you need to go to Ficksburg. This town organizes hikes to the mountains where you can still find the San petroglyphs. There are also flights available to the Katse Dam, where you can go fishing and boating.

Right in the rural province of Free State is the city of Bloemfontein. Bloem, as South Africans say, is the judicial capital of South Africa and the sixth largest city in the country. It is a quiet town, with stunning old architecture, leafy suburbs and a nice relaxed atmosphere on the streets. South Africans from other cities sometimes mock the residents of Bloemfontein that occasionally stand at a traffic light to see the changing of the lights. That would be in fact the only visible change in this town ...
In Bloemfontein there is plenty to do especially in the cultural field. There are a lot of museums; the biggest the Anglo-Boer War Museum and the National Museum. The military museum is the National Women's Monument, commemorating the thousands of women and children who died in British concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War.

The Anglo-Boer War Museum recalls the various wars between the British and the Boers which not only killed many whites but also thousands of blacks who fought in the service of the whites. In the museum you don't only see documentation of these wars in South Africa but also the consequences in India, Bermuda and Portugal. The Anglo-Boer War Museum is located south of the city of Bloemfontein on Monument Road. If you are an art lover then a visit to the Oliewenhuis Art Museum definitely is worth it! In the museum there are works of South African artists, including Thomas Baines. There is a good collection of contemporary and there are many temporary exhibitions.

Striking in the old part of the city, and especially in President Brand Street, are many sandstone monuments. What is also nice the Anglican Cathedral and City Hall. The First Council Hall is the oldest building in Bloemfontein. White simple building with thatched roof was built in 1848 and was initially used as a school. In 1854 it became the People's Council meeting. It is the cradle of the government, the church and the education of Free State. Besides the culture in Bloemfontein, with such a name, enough green. From Naval Hill which has a great view over the city. You will also find the Franklin Game Reserve, where antelopes and zebras live.  At the foot of the hill, in Hamilton Park, the Orchid House seats up to 3000 species of orchids that grows in South Africa. Slightly out of town the Free State Botanical Gardens covers about 70 hectares. Here grow about four hundred species of plants, including a number of special native specimens.

Because Bloemfontein is a university town, there are many restaurants and bars to go out. Furthermore they often have live bands. In modern Sand du Plessis Theatre you can admire plays and ballet performances. Bloemfontein is not a standard tourist destination, but well worth it if you want to add a cultural touch to your visit to this part of Africa. The city lies on the N1 between Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Ficksburg is a pleasant surprise in the Eastern Highlands of Free State and the centre of the cherry industry. Farmers cultivate the fruit and produce local cherry liqueur, Cherry Mampoer. The fruit harvest takes place between October and December. It is also called the "Rural village and has nice sandstone houses and a Dutch Reformed church. In November, at a Cherry Festival and you can admire several private gardens where all kinds of picnics - of course with cherries - are organized. The festival has been organized since 1967, it lasts three days and attracts 30 000 visitors. The festival is not just about cherries. There is a parade of floats, majorettes and riders on horses and camels. A ball will be organized where a Cherry Queen is chosen.

For even more cherry pleasure you can experience the Cherry Trail. This route runs along several cherry orchards, farms and shops. Ficksburg is also a great base for hiking along the beautiful rock paintings of the San in the area. For those who have no passion for Ficksburg cherries it is still a nice town to do things. From Ficksburg treks into the mountains can be organized where you admire rock paintings of the San people. Tourists mainly go to Ficksburg lured by the Katse Dam in the Maluti Mountains. From Ficksburg there are flights to the lake where you can sail and fish. The dam is situated at 3000 meters altitude and Ficksburg is situated on the R26 near the border of Lesotho.

Things to do in the Free State

Sentinel Hiking Trail
The most beautiful walk of Free State is the Sentinel Hiking Trail. This route of 10 km is on the border between Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, and offers great views and adventure in the Drakensberg. You will pass spectacular places like the Devil's Tooth, the Maluti mountains, Mount-aux-Sources and Mahai Waterfall. You start with a two-hour climb from Sentinal at an altitude of 3000 metres in the Drakensberg plateau. This takes about 2 hours if you are in a fairly good condition. You need a rope ladder on a mountain, but if you find it scary then you can take another route. The view on top of the mountain is worth the climb. The Sentinel Hiking Trail is located in the far eastern Free State and is accessible from Phuthaditjhaba. From there, you can go there with taxis or walk.

Jagtersfontein, is a mining town in the recent past and famous for its diamond findings. Still water pumps on the street can be seen. The fascinating history of the city is defined in the Open Mine Museum. Faure Smith is known as one of the three cities in the world with a railway line through the centre. There still runs an old steam train. A koffiepotfontein reflects the name of coffee Fountain, where there is an open air museum. Jacobsdal claims to have built the first wine cellar outside the Cape Province. Wines produced by the winery-Landzicht. Both Magersfontein as Paardenberg (battlefields from the Boer War) are close to Jacobsdal. Go on the road even closer look the British blockhouse at Horse Mountain, built in 1900. At Petrusburg, an agricultural cultural centre, with stretching salt pans reaching out as far as the eye. Emmaus, the centre of South Africa, located 20 km from the city.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Golden Gate Highlands National Park is located in the eastern Free State. Here there are vast grasslands and spectacular sandstone formations. The park gets its name from the plains by the sun in the late afternoon to get a golden glow. The park was founded in 1963 to protect the sandstone cliffs. There, life includes the blesbok, white-tailed gnu, deer, mountain reedbuck, jackals, bearded vultures, black eagles and steppe eagles. Many people come here to walk or to take a firm hike tour. A nice walk is Rhebok Hiking Trail. This is 33 km long and takes about two days, and is a great way to see the park. In the park has the small Basotho Cultural Village. This open-air museum offers a glimpse into the world of a traditional Basotho tribe. Although life is re-enacted by actors, it is quite informative. You can stay in rondavels and eat at an outdoor restaurant. There are interesting tours along the ancient rock art where you can learn more about the medicinal properties of plants. If you go into the village we also encourage you to visit the shaman of the village. He looks into your future by reading bones. Certainly an impressive experience! Golden Gate Highlands National Park is located in the eastern Free State and you can reach it you through the R74 and R712.

Population in the Free State
Free State has several populations. The indigenous inhabitants of the province are the San people. They lived in the southern part of Africa for many years but were driven out of South Africa by different tribes. Later, settlers from the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom made the San move to the inland of Free State.

San people - Bushmen
The San people are the indigenous people of Free State and are also known as Bushmen and Khoikhoi. The Bushmen had a sign language that they use for hunting. In Free Sate you still find petroglyphs that contain images of wild animals. Because Bushmen nomads and hunters adapted always nature, and there are no traces of them and petroglyphs after then. About 5000 years ago Bushmen were growing livestock and hunters gradually became shepherds. This created a first form of wealth, and permanent settlements and tribal chiefs were developed.

Between 1830 and 1850 white South African farmers immigrated from the conquered by the British Cape Colony to the area around the Orange River. In 1842 they established under the name Voortrekkers between the Orange River and the Vaal River, the Orange Free State. This colony did not remain independent. In 1848, the Free State was annexed by the United Kingdom. However, the power of the British was not long, though in 1854 the Free State was declared independent by the signing of the Contract of Bloemfontein. Although the Orange Free State was economically strong the republic issues kept a politically and republic with the United Kingdom.

The British fought between 1877 and 1902 against Dutch and German settlers who were established as farmers there. This battle is known as the Boer Wars. The Boers seemed to be successful; they won the First Boer War. After reinforcement arrived in 1900, the British people managed to come to power in South Africa. In that year they conquered the cities of Bloemfontein and Pretoria, the capital of the Orange Free State and Transvaal. In 1902, the last farmers surrendered, which ended the war. An agreement was signed with the farmers who received 3 million pounds in compensation for colonization. It was also promised that they would get their own government. This agreement was Orange Free State, a province of the Union of South Africa in 1910. In Bloemfontein, the capital of the province, the Union's law-making power was established. The government settled in Pretoria and parliament in Cape Town.

Current population
Free State is home to about 2.9 million people. Nowadays the major part of the population, 88.8%, of a black colour, 8.8% of the population is Caucasian. The population consists largely of Africans and Sotho. These are also the most widely spoken languages ​​in Free State. The Sotho houses are a unique feature of the province because of the colourful paintings. The population lives on agriculture, livestock and mining industries. The main export products of the country are soy, potatoes, asparagus, cherries, and sunflowers.