Voortrekker Monument

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For the first day of the safari we planned a short visit to the Voortrekker Monument.

The Voortrekker Monument is regarded as one of the most important in South Africa depicting and commemorating the “Trek” of a large section of the Afrikaans speaking South African populaton to the interior of the country during the 18th century. The Great Trek occurred when a number of Boers decided to move to the interior of the country to escape British rule at the Cape. Later some more Afrikaners from Natal also trekked away from the British. The Voortrekker Monument commemorates some of the fierce battles between the Trekkers and the African peoples. 


Stone detail in the upper level passage of the Monument

The task to plan this monument befell Gerhard Moerdijk, a South African architect.  The fundamental idea was that the monument should commemorate the fortitude, courage and intransigence of the Voortrekkers.

Moerdijk succeeded in designing a great, bold, imposing structure that also contained subtle but strongly recognizable elements of Africa.

Chevron stone detail of windows

The Voortrekkers themselves were modest and had not built any great structures themselves. Their needs were perfectly satisfied by their homes that mainly consisted of ox wagons and simple hartbeesthuisies or kapsteilhuisies.

Since the Bible was their greatest cultural influence they probably would have built an altar of thanksgiving should they have decided to erect a monument for themselves.

Front view of the Monument

View towards downotown Pretoria

Side view of the monument showing figure of trekker leader

Gerhard Moerdijk’s splendid masterpiece comprises a design of an altar in African style with pure African motifs for decoration and theme. His ideas sprouted from the stone enclosures of the Karanga people of Zimbabwe.

These people built enclosures from granite rock around the residences of their chiefs in a style that blended with the vastness of Africa. The leading decorative motif of the chevron pattern on the Imba Hura (great enclosure) was built into the façade of the monument.

The Monument is a 40 metre high square structure and is perceived by some as having characteristics of the Völkerschlacht-Denkmal, in Leipzig, Germany. It took 11 years to build (1938-1949) and stands on a hill a few kilometres to the south west of Pretoria city centre.

The hill forms part of a nature reserve hosting some antelope and the garden has a good selection of indigenous plants.

Four busts of Trekker leaders Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius and Hendrik Potgieter as well as an anonymous symbolical leader is placed on the four corners of the monument.

Women and children statue by Anton van Wouw

A bronze of a woman and children by Anton van Wouw stands in front of the monument and above it looms the heads of wildebeest representing the dangers that confronted the civilization of the time.

According to Bulpin: “This symbolism was suggested by the episode during which Piet Retief was seated chatting to the Zullu king Dingaan,Their conversation was disturbed by a thunderous singing and stamping outside the royal enclosure. “What is that?” asked Retief, ‘My regiment of wildebeest dancing’ answered Dingaan with a smile.”

The head of a solitary buffalo, the most dangerous and determined of all wild animals when wounded can be seen above the main entrance to the monument.

Floor detail of Monument

Main entrance  with buffalo head

Wildebeest freeze above Women and children statue

The Sarcophagus

The interior consists of a spacious crypt with a sarcophagus in the center of the crypt in the basement level of the monument. On it is the words “Ons vir jou Suid-Afrika” (We for Thee South Africa). The surrounding shadows are tomb-like – especially when one stands in the basement.

From 30 metres above light filters through a circular well to fill the great hall with soft light to blend with the brown-yellow floor pattern radiating from the central crypt towards the outer walls in a wave pattern. A magnificent frieze 93 metres long and 2,5 metres high, depicts scenes and episodes from the Great Trek. This Italian marble frieze is reputed to be the second largest of its kind in the world – the larger being the frieze at the altar of Zeus at Pergamum.

Each scene on the frieze has been created with authentic detail and direct descendants of the Voortrekkers posed as models for the human figures. Through lack of evidence from Voortrekker records about the breeds of dogs owned a dog was even bred specifically for the purpose of being included in one of the scenes. This cross-breed of a greyhound-Doberman pincher match was modeled from life. The frieze was modeled in clay and translated in Italy into marble from the Apennines similar to that used by Michelangelo.

Dog in marble freeze

Tapestry showing dog

Child's toy - "kakebeenwa" and "dolosse"

Exhibit of voortrekker wagon and implements

View towards the south of Pretoria

Torch carried during the inauguration of the monument

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