Pretoria, the Jacaranda City, is the capital of South Africa. Even though the title of capital is actually shared by other cities, most people look to Pretoria. The beautiful city situated north of Johannesburg is often forgotten next to its bigger sister, but remains a city with a long and involved history. Pretoria is filled with old buildings and numerous museums that exhibit the history of the city, the country and the people.
The newest addition to the attractions of Pretoria is Freedom Park. Development began in 1999 and in 2007 the doors were opened to the public. The park is a 52 hectare monument to democracy in South Africa. Within the park, designers tried to encapsulate the heart and soul of South Africa. It is divided into a number of elements connected by the Mveledzo – the spiral path. Isivivane is the symbolic resting place of all those that gave their lives for the struggle. The eleven boulders that stand here come from all over the country. The Sikhumbuto, or Wall of Names, records those who helped reach the goal of democracy. The Moshate area is used for exhibitions and the Uitspanplek is an area where visitors can look over the entire park in tranquillity. Some of the elements still need to be constructed, but Freedom Park is already a must see when visiting Pretoria.
The Union Buildings watch over Pretoria from Meintjies Kop. These magnificent buildings are considered to be one of South Africa’s architectural masterpieces. It was built to symbolise the union of divided people – at the time the English and the Boers. Below the buildings lie the terraced gardens that contain only indigenous plants amongst manicured lawns. Only the Botanical Gardens of Pretoria rival the terraced gardens of the Union Buildings in their splendour. The Union Buildings is a definite must when visiting Pretoria.
Another monument to the strength of the South African people is the Voortrekker Monument. Incorrectly seen as a monument related to apartheid, the Voortrekker Monument is actually a monument to the brave pioneers that left the Cape and travelled north. The monument is known for its detailed sculpture work that depicts the little known history of the Voortrekkers that occurred more than 150 years ago. The focus of the monument is on historical accuracy and telling the story of these pioneers and is not political at all.
Pretoria is filled with many other museums as well. It seems that wherever a visitor finds themselves, they will come across a museum of some sort. A must see is the Transvaal Museum of Natural History. It is the largest museum of this type in South Africa and exhibits some of South Africa’s most interesting artefacts. From the skull of the famous Mrs Ples to dinosaur fossils and local flora, the museum houses some of the most incredible exhibitions you will find anywhere in South Africa.
Other museums worth mentioning include the Museum of Art, the Kruger House Museum, Melrose House, the Cultural Museum, the Pioneer Museum and the Crater Museum to the north of the city. All of these museums offer visitors a chance to see the history of South Africa and Pretoria before the era of apartheid.
The best time to visit Pretoria is in October when the jacaranda trees are in full blossom turning the city into a purple wonderland, but the mild climate makes Pretoria a great place to visit no matter what the time of the year. The many museums and historical sites are sure to keep any visitor occupied for quite some time and the tranquil beauty of the city will keep visitors wanting to come back.
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