The Voortrekker Monument – conserving heritage

The Voortrekker Monument towers over the Pretoria skyline like a large, compact fort. It is an architectural wonder that houses unique art and a treasure of historic artifacts. I recently visited the monument as part of the Fair Trade Tourism 10-year Anniversary Celebrations.

Vortrekker Monument

The monument, designed by Gerard Moerdijk, that commemorates “the bravery of the people that left the Cape Colony in the mid-1800’s to search for a new place to settle”, was declared a National Heritage Site by the South African Resource Agency in 2011. The building is 40 meters high and sits on a base that is 40×40 meters. At the bottom of the building there is a cenotaph (an empty coffin), and at exactly 12 o’clock on 16 December the sun shines through a small opening in the domed ceiling onto the words engraved on its lid: “Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika” (We for Thee, South Africa).

The cenotaph, seen from the top balcony high up in the domed cieling

The cenotaph, seen from the top balcony high up in the domed ceiling. I visited early December – note how the sun’s rays are shining almost onto the cenotaph.

The Voortrekker Monument also houses the biggest marble frieze in the world; the 92 meter long and 2.3 meter high artwork depicts historical scenes from the Great Trek. The work is so detailed, it almost feels like the people depicted will step out of the frieze and into the hall at any moment. The monument’s museum houses a treasure of artefacts from the time; clothes, tools, photographs, school books and bibles.

Detail from the marble frieze

Detail from the marble frieze

The Voortrekker Monument strives to be a sustainable tourism attraction, not only by conserving an important piece of history and heritage but also by being a fair employer. In addition to the treasures housed inside the monument, its gardens are filled with indigenous plants and recently a road was built to join the Voortrekker Monument with Freedom Park, a memorial dedicated to those that lost their lives during South Africa’s long struggle for democracy.

The Voortrekker Monument describes a part of South Africa’s history that may be controversial for some. But regardless of how you feel about the Great Trek and its consequences, the Voortrekker Monument is an impressive building that tells an important story which helps us understand South Africa’s past and present. It is also a place where you can marvel at architectural and artistic skills, and enjoy breathtaking views of Pretoria.


Views towards Pretoria from the top of the Vortrekker Monument

Vortrekker Monument

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