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Notes on the Geography of South Africa: Kimberley

There can't be many cities that boast of their "big hole," and the funny thing is that for handsome houses it's hard to find a place that tops Kimberley.

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The road in from Bloemfontein.

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Side road into the veld.

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One interpretation.

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Civilization!

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It's the North Cape Mall.

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But that's not what we're here for. It's diamonds we're after, which brings us to the Big Hole, one of several huge pits around town. On the skyline, that's the sadly provincial office tower is on the left; on the right is Oppenheimer House, where the precious stones get sorted.

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Another view of the hole, formally the Kimberley Mine. It started out as a hill, but a rush began in 1871. Two years later a town had sprung up, politely named for the man who was then the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. The hole was dug to a depth of 240 meters, and the ground below that was tunneled. Early on, Cecil Rhodes gained control and in 1888 he established the De Beers diamond monopoly, which survives long after the Kimberley Mine's abandonment in 1914. The red steelwork is a viewing platform.

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A picture taken in 1990, before the overlook was added. A display at the local museum stated that the diamonds taken from the mine would, if collected, fill a mine skipcart--no more.

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About as understated as can be, this is the head office of De Beers, as extended by 1904.

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Name plate.

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The distincly unglamorous floormat.

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The not much more elegant sorting premises, where stones are still brought even though the local mines are almost played out. It's Oppenheimer House, named for Sir Ernest, who diversified from his gold interests on the Rand to take control of De Beers.

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And so we have the icons. The statue of Rhodes was unveiled in 1907, five years after his death.

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The Oppenheimer memorial.

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This statue of Victoria was unveiled in 1906 in Queen's Park, but it was later moved to this secluded corner near the museum. That's politics. The park has kept its old name.

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The city has two prominent memorials to the siege of 1899-1900. This one is the Cape Police Memorial, dedicated in 1904.

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The grander one is the Honored Dead Memorial, modeled on the Nereid monument of Xanthos, known to the English because a reconstruction was on display in the British Museum. Dedicated in 1903, the designer was Herbert Baker.

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The powerful inscription, by Kipling, reads: "This for a charge to our children in sign of the price we paid. The price that we paid for freedom that comes unsoiled to your hand. Read, revere, and uncover. Here are the victors laid. They that died for their city, being sons of the land."

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The Kimberley Club.

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Gate to the club.

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As early as 1907, the city had a mining museum, the Alexander McGregor Museum.

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The city hall, from 1899.

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To its right, the hulking provincial office building.

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Trinity Methodist Church.

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The interior.

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The Anglican Cathedral of St. Cyprian, its nave from 1908 but its tower as late as 1961.

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The synagogue, 1902.

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Main Street, facing City Hall.

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The Work Building, corner of Jones and Dutoitspan.

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The town is full of well-maintained homes both large and small.

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Another example.

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And another.

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The fence is unfortunate, but there's no arguing with fear.

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Something larger: Armagh House.

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Its wrought-iron gate.

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Still larger: Dunluce, built in 1897 for John Orr, founder of Barlow Rand stores.

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The boy's high school.

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The Kimberley junior school.

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Edmund Rice House, on the campus of St. Patrick's College.

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Time for Gladstone Cemetery?

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Three children, all dead in childhood.

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Dad dies young; so do his kids.

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Bilingual, English-Tamil.

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Heading east out of town.

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The Vaal near Warrenton.

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It's 300 miles back to Johannesburg.


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