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The history of Von Wolf’s Duwisib Castle
Text Christina Rockstroh | Photographs Namibia Wildlife Resorts
Duwisib Castle, well hidden in the middle of nowhere, is a large fortified farmhouse. We found the legendary manor house of yore halfway between Mariental and Aus. The battlements and embrasures do not fail to impress, but part of the fascination is the unlikely location in which this ‘castle’ was constructed over 100 years ago.
F ollow the tar road from Mariental to Maltahöhe – an easy drive through an ancient eroded landscape of sparsely vegetated parched plains and scores of flat-topped mountains which from a distance appear deceptively smooth as if covered in chocolate cake batter. From Maltahöhe it’s a 38 km dustroad drive on the C14 until the next turn-off onto the D824. As you head southwest over hill and dale for a further 44 km on the D831 and finally the D826, the scenery becomes lively and more varied. After yet another bend Duwisib Castle comes into view so unexpectedly that you are completely taken by surprise, even if you have seen pictures of the red sandstone oddity sitting on a rise against a backdrop of hills and a massive mountain ridge. If you haven’t seen pictures, don’t imagine the fairy-tale splendour of famous Neuschwanstein but rather think of the Alte Feste in Windhoek or Fort Namutoni in Etosha National Park.
Baron Hans-Heinrich von Wolf, a captain of the Royal Saxon Artillery, certainly knew how to pick a lovely spot. He commissioned construction of Duwisib in 1907, envisioning a manor estate of grand proportions. He endeavoured to buy several farms with a total area of 140 000 ha but the district authority in Maltahöhe approved only 55 000 ha for his plans to start a horse stud. Hans-Heinrich von Wolf was known as an eccentric character, generous and well-liked in the district. In the short time he spent at Duwisib he managed to establish a successful stud farm. For decades it was assumed that Duwisib was the origin of the wild horses of the Namib. According to more recent research they are believed to be descended from dispersed South African army horses and from the herds of a stud closer to Aus.
ROYALTY FOR A NIGHT
Ever wanted to stay in a castle? NWR completed renovations on Duwisib Castle in 2014. You can now book a stay in one of 5 rooms. There are also 10 campsites on the grounds for the more outdoorsy visitors.
DID YOU KNOW?
Duwisib Castle’s museum houses a collection of 18th and 19th century antiques, armours and paintings for the history buffs.
Duwisib is located 390km south of Windhoek, a drive of about 4.5 hours from the capital. It makes for a great stopover on your way to Sesriem and Sossusvlei.
The extraordinary farmhouse was designed by Wilhelm Sander, the renowned architect who built the three castles overlooking Windhoek. Artisans from various European countries were hired to construct this fine specimen of Wilhelmine neo-romanticism which sports elements of the gothic and renaissance styles. The sandstone was quarried in the vicinity but just about everything else was imported and carted to Duwisib from Lüderitzbucht, more than 300 km away, on almost non-existent bumpy tracks. Ox wagons were constantly on the move with expensive furniture, carpets and pieces of art for the palatial interior of 22 rooms. Despite the formidable logistics Duwisib was ready for occupation in 1909.
The layout of Duwisib Castle is a simple rectangle with three wings of rooms around a courtyard closed by a plain high wall at the rear end. The gothic entrance opens into the hall of knights, decorated with a collection of arms and armours, trophies and pictures. A narrow staircase on the side leads up to a musicians’ balcony and a gentlemen’s room in the tower. Everything else is at ground level: a large panelled dining room, a drawing room from the Biedermeier period and the private quarters of the von Wolf couple in the main section at the front of the building, as well as the various rooms in the colonnaded side wings. The fountain that supplied the whole household with water babbles in the attractive courtyard. The big old jacarandas and makalani palm trees – planted by von Wolf himself – have long since grown higher than the walls and the tower and now form a luscious green canopy over the courtyard which turns lilac with blooms in spring.
The gallant captain and his wife Jayta enjoyed their stately home for just five years. When WWI broke out in 1914 the couple was on their way to Britain to buy a thoroughbred stallion. Instead, they travelled to Germany and von Wolf reported for military duty. Two weeks later he was killed in the battle of the Somme. Jayta never returned to Duwisib.
Today, Duwisib is operated as an accommodation establishment by Namibia Wildlife Resorts. An ideal stopover on the way to Sesriem and Sossusvlei, this historical landmark rises from the arid Namibian landscape like a mirage… A castle in the dust clouds.
This article was first published in the Travel News Namibia Spring 2016 issue.