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Corbelled Houses

Scattered throughout the Northern Cape province you’ll find the roughly hewn Corbelled houses that where built by the trekboere (roaming farmers or pioneers). These stock farmers migrated from the south into the Karoo in the early 1800’s, to discover that trees where sparse and rocks aplenty. Consequently, they set about building shelter with the available raw materials.

As there could be no wooden trusses to support the roof, they made use of an ancient method of construction known as corbelling. This technique was implemented by placing successive courses of flat stone, each one extending a little further inward than the layer beneath, until the walls almost met at the apex. The remaining hole over the roof could then be closed with a single slab. These thick stone walls were excellent insulators against the extreme heat of summer. The floors of most corbelled houses where made of smeared earth that was coloured a rich red with a mixture of fat and oxblood and then polished with a smooth stone.

Megalithic builders in Mediterranean countries used this building technique from as long ago as 4000 years, with examples of this style of architecture found in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Greenland and Italy.

Constructed in a similar fashion (of limestone boulders) the trulli houses of Alberabello, Italy, feature domed or conical roofs and have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Similarly, within South Africa, many of the corbelled houses of the Northern Cape enjoy Heritage status.

Our corbelled houses can also be compared with the Syrian beehive houses, with their thick mud brick walls, designed for the desert climate even harsher than that of the Karoo.

Today, many of the corbelled houses on farms in the Fraserburg, Williston and Carnarvon areas have been revamped as guest accommodation and you can lie in bed and stare up at the circular stone ceiling imagining a bygone era. One can also visit the Carnarvon Museum which is positioned right next to a corbelled house and enjoy this interesting architecture.


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