The mountains were formed 2 million years ago with lava being deposited over the Tafelberg sandstone deposit. The lava is up to 500m thick in places. The lava is deposited in layers – evidence of eruptions taking place periodically. Rooikrans is an example of red Molento sandstone in the Tafelberg deposit. The deposits consist mainly of dolerites.
The geological beauty of the mountains is one of the main attractions of this area. A few peaks can be seen from town – Swartkrans (2 300m) is one of the highest in the Free State.
A large number of species of trees, shrubs, succulents, wild flowers and grasses grow in the fertile soil, and many of Rosendal’s residents grow organic vegetables in their spring, summer and autumn gardens. Rosendal is a bird lovers delight, several species of birds frequent the area, including Vultures and Blue Cranes. More common birds abound: you’ll encounter colonies of chatty weavers, around the dams, ducks and komorants abound, in the town and surrounds you’re bound to run into pheasants, hadedas, woodpeckers, guinea fowl and chickens! Not forgetting the wild hares, meerkatte and ground squirrels.
The area is roughly 1700m above sea level, with the mountain peaks reaching 2300 to 2408m. Rosendal experiences dramatic seasonal changes, winters are bitterly cold in the evenings with severe frost and occasional snowfalls. The dry winters are supplanted by the most marvellous mild and green summers. Summer temperatures rarely exceed 30C and summer rainfalls normally come in via short, dramatic bursts of thunderstorms. One of the favourite pastimes of those who live here is to dim the house lights and watch nature’s spectacular light-shows as thunderstorms pass over.
The area is marked by summer rainfall, spring winds, the odd hail storms, occasional fog, and even the occasional snowfall.
The Eastern Free State was first occupied by indigenous San and Khoi people, as evidenced by the many examples of rock art in caves on the farms surrounding Rosendal. By the early 1800s, a series of highly decentralised Basotho chiefdoms had emerged in the area. Through the twin pressures of the massive Zulu kingdom’s expansion from the east, known as the Difaqane, and the arrival of the Voortrekkers from the south, the various chiefdoms came together under the leadership of King Moshoeshoe (picture). Universally praised as a skilled diplomat and strategist, he was able to wield the disparate chiefdoms and refugee groups escaping the Difaqane into a cohesive nation. There is evidence around Rosendal of sacred places and mountain fortresses used by the BaSotho during this period.
Hunters, adventurers and missionaries from the Cape probably already arrived in the 1820s, but Cape farmers only came in large numbers during the Great Trek, from about 1837 onwards.
Soos baie ander plekke langs die trekroete het Rosendal sy naam te danke aan die Voortrekkers. Op 18 Oktober 1837 het die Voortrekkerprediker Erasmus Smit dit aangedui as Roderozendal (valley of red roses) of Bloemendal (valley of flowers). Hy skryf in sy dagboek dat van die trekkers wild gaan skiet het en pragtige blomme uit ‘n “bloemrijk oord” saamgebring het “vele door onze ogen nog nooit geziene bloemen, . . . zodat ik proponeerde de plaats, waar we nu met’s Gouverneurskamp gekampeerd liggen, Bloemendal of Roderozendal te noemen; overwegende de uitnemend grote rozenrode bloemen de hier in grote menigte gevonden worden. Men behoeft nie eens naar’t veld uit te gaan, om de bloemen te zoeken; maar de aangename geur der bloemen wandelt of komt ons hier in `t leger als vanzelf te gemoet.”
The region was first occupied by Voortrekkers under Andries Hendrik Potgieter, but after the arrival of Piet Retief it was decided at a contentious public meeting to make Natal the destination of the Great Trek and to establish a Boer Republic there. Thereafter the greater Bethlehem region was, for a number of years, mainly a through station.
As the republic of the Orange Free State expanded various Boer-Basotho wars were fought and the Basotho pushed eastwards accross the Caledon river, before a British protectorate, Basotholand, was declared. The Rosendal area (surrounding the farm called Rosendal) became known for farming, and though some houses were built near Kalkoenkrans, the town was only laid out in 1911 and declared a municipality in 1914. This followed a request from local farmers for a church and market place that was within a reasonable distance of their farms. The widow of Phillip Botha had donated the farm on which the town was founded, and she was asked to choose a name for it. She and her young son Hansie came up with two suggestions: Leliefontein (lily fountain) and Rosendal. The latter (‘valley of roses’) was eventually agreed upon.
The village now forms part of the Dihlabeng municipality, which is headquartered in Bethlehem.