Voortrekker Monument

Voortrekker Monument

The colossal grey granite building can be seen from every direction as one nears Pretoria – the massive Voortrekker Monument was built to honour the Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony in their thousands between 1835 and 1854. The architect was Gerard Moerdijk and it was his goal to design a monument that would “stand a thousand years or longer to explain the history and the significance of the Great Trek to future generations”.
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On the eastern corner, on the level of the Monument’s front door, is the cornerstone which was laid on 16 December 1938 by three descendants of Voortrekker leaders. Apart from the massive size of the Monument, two elements especially make this monument a worthwhile place to visit – the historical frieze and the Cenotaph.
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For more information contact the Research Centre:
012 326 6770

Hall of Heroes

Visitors entering the Monument through the great teak front doors are greeted by an incredible sight: a massive high domed hall, 25x25x41 metres, with marble floors and an impressive marble frieze (92 metres long and 2,3 metres high), depicting historical scenes from the Great Trek. Four huge arched windows made from yellow Belgian glass flank the hall and give the impression that the area is a revered place, like a temple…

All the marble in the Hall of Heroes, except that of the Frieze, comes from the quarries at Marble Hall in the Northern Province. When one looks down at the interior of the hall from the top dome, it is clear that the marble has been laid to form a specific pattern on the floor. It forms a pattern of water rippling out in ever widening circles with the Cenotaph at its centre – symbolical of a Trek to freedom that started on a small scale, but eventually became a mighty migratory flood in history, the effects of which can still be felt today.

The Historical Frieze consists of 27 marble panels made from Quercetta Italian marble. The sculptures form a unique unit despite the fact that four different artists worked on them – a noteworthy achievement. The joys and sorrows of the Trek is depicted from 1835 to 1852, not only the political history and its significance, but also the socio-cultural aspects.

Tales of heroism and perseverance, illness and death, defeat and conquest, friendship and treason are depicted. Not only does the Frieze depict the birth of the Afrikaner nation, but also the contact and relations with the Black Nations of the interior during the 19th century – for these nations also a time of internal power struggles and a fight for survival.

The work on the Frieze started in 1942 and the sculptors, Hennie Potgieter, Peter Kirchhoff, Frikkie Kruger and Laurika Postma literally spent years of their lives completing it. The total cost for the construction of the Frieze was £60,000.

Museum

During the centenary of the Great Trek, the ATKV launched a country-wide campaign to collect Voortrekker (Pioneer) memorabilia. 

The large number of museum items which were collected, were temporarily stored in Hartenbos with an idea to, one day, display these items in the Voortrekker Monument’s own museum. The doyenne of museums in the Transvaal at the time, Mrs Kotie Roodt-Coetzee also strove towards such a museum. Although there was no space for a museum within the Monument, a temporary display in the basement during the inauguration in 1949 drew much attention and rekindled the dream of a permanent Voortrekker display.

In the meantime, the National Cultural History Museum in Pretoria took care of the objects, which were donated to the Monument. 

Eventually a new “Voortrekker Museum” was constructed on the site in the 1960’s. The building also provided space for the 15 tapestry panels that were donated to the Board by the “Vrou en Moederbond” of the ATKV in 1960.

The Cultural History Museum continued to control this Museum until March 2000 when the Board of the Voortrekker Monument and Nature Reserve finally took over its management. 

The museum was moved back to the basement of the Monument in December 2000. Inform-ation panels were added to the exhibition in order to create a balanced picture of the Pioneers, their every-day life and relations with other inhabitants of southern Africa. The tapestry was moved to the Cenotaph Hall where the flags of the various Boer Republics also hang. The museum is definitely worth a visit.

The building where the museum was housed is utilized as office space for the expanding personnel at the Monument. Part of the building has been adapted for an art gallery.

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Cenotaph

The Cenotaph is the central focus point of the Monument. The word cenotaph means “empty tomb”. It is therefore the symbolic resting place of Piet Retief and all the other Voortrekkers who died during the Great Trek. The Cenotaph is made of red granite from the Parys region in the Free State.

Once a year, on 16 December, the sun shines through an opening in the dome roof of the Monument onto the middle of the Cenotaph. Read more

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Tapestry

The “Afrikaanse Taal-en Kultuurvereniging” ATKV’s Woman and Mother Movement donated the Historical Tapestry to the Voortrekker Monument. 

Nine women worked for eight years to complete the fifteen scenes from the Great Trek. The Tapestry contains 3,3 million stitches. The artist W.H. Coetzer painted the scenes on the tapestry gauze for the women to embroider.

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