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Voortrekker Monument (Pretoria)

Overview of the Voortrekker Monument

The majestic Voortrekker Monument is located on a hilltop in Pretoria, and built to honor the Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854.

Designed by Gerard Moerdijk, the Voortrekker Monument was built with the idea of creating a monument that would "stand a thousand years to describe the history and meaning of the Great Trek (Groot Trek) to its descendants".

History of the Voortrekker Monument

When President Paul Kruger attended the Day of the Covenant celebrations at Blood River in Natal on 16 December 1888, the idea to build a monument in honor of the Voortrekkers was first discussed. The "Sentrale Volksmonumentekomitee" [Central People's Monuments Committee] (SVK) was formed in 1931 to bring this idea to fruition.

Construction on the Voortrekker Monument started on 13 July 1937, with the cornerstone being laid on 16 December 1938 by three descendants of some of the Voortrekker leaders:

  • Mrs JC Muller (granddaughter of Andries Pretorius)
  • Mrs KF Ackerman (great-granddaughter of Hendrik Potgieter)
  • Mrs JC Preller (great-granddaughter of Piet Retief)

The then-prime minister DF Malan inaugurated the Voortrekker Monument on 16 December 1949.

Main Features of the Voortrekker Monument

The Voortrekker Monument measures 40 meters high, with a base of 40 meters by 40 meters, strongly resembling the German monument Volkerschlachtendenkmal in Leipzig. Several theories exist as to the symbolism of the monument.

Around the outside of the Voortrekker Monument, each of the four corners contains a statue: Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius, Hendrik Potgieter, and an "unknown" leader, representing all of the other Voortrekker leaders. Each statues weighs approximately 6 tones. At the eastern corner of the Voortrekker Monument, on the same level as its entrance, is the foundation stone.

The main entrance of the Voortrekker Monument leads into the domed Hall of Heroes. The area is flanked by four huge arched Belgian glass windows. The Hall of Heroes contains the marbled Historical Frieze, which forms an important part of the monument. Consisting of 27 bas-relief panels depicting the history of the Great Trek, it is the biggest marble frieze in the world.

The set of panels describes historical scenes starting from the first Voortrekkers (1835) up to the signing of the Sand River Convention (1852). The Cenotaph can be viewed in the middle of the floor of the Hall of Heroes.

The central focus of the Voortrekker Monument is the Cenotaph, which is located in the center of the Cenotaph Hall. The Cenotaph can also be viewed from the dome at the top of the Voortrekker Monument.

Through an opening in the dome, a ray of sunshine shines directly on the Cenotaph, striking the words "Ons vir jou Suid Afrika" at exactly 12:00 on 16 December annually. The ray of light is said to symbolize God's blessing on the lives of the Voortrekkers. A multitude of visitors visit the Voortrekker Monument annually on this day to experience this.

The Cenotaph Hall is decorated with the flags of the different Voortrekker Republics, as well as display cases containing artifacts from the Great Trek. The northern wall contains a lantern with a flame that has been kept burning since 1938.

The Voortrekker Monument Complex

The Voortrekker Monument Complex has been expanded several times, and now includes:

  • An indigenous garden surrounding the monument
  • Nearby Fort Schanskop
  • The Garden of Remembrance
  • A 3.41 km2 nature reserve, containing several heads of game

Review of the Voortrekker Monument

We spent at least half a day at the Voortrekker Monument Complex. There is quite a bit to do here, including the Fort Schanskop area.

An hour of two was spent lot of time walking through the Voortrekker Monument itself, looking at the history depicted on the walls and remembering our past and our ancestors.

Descending downwards to the Cenotaph hall can proof a bit of a challenge to the disabled, but luckily, there is an elevator available!

The display cases contains a number of relics from the Great Trek, and it was very interesting looking through these. Several family Bibles are also on display, and the sheer magnitude of the Bibles are quite a sight to behold.

For the fitter visitors, the top of the building is accessible by stairs. Not being that fit, we decided to rather take the daunting small elevator to the top. If you suffer from serious claustrophobia, this elevator will definitely not be the best part of your visit to the museum!

The view from the top makes the effort worthwhile though. It is a breathtaking sight to view Pretoria from that high up (the Voortrekker Monument is built on a hill, which adds to the vantage point).

A small museum just a few steps from the Voortrekker Monument takes the visitor through the history of South Africa, up to the end of the Apartheid era, and is a very educational visit.

Woolworths provided our picnic lunch, which we had in the game reserve.

Take the day out, bring the family. The Voortrekker Monument is a relaxing, quiet, cultural discovery.

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