The impressive granite Voortrekker Monument just outside Pretoria in the Voortrekker Monument Private Nature Reserve stands sixty-two metres high, by forty metres by forty metres and is positioned so that it is visible from all directions. The biggest monument in Africa, this magnificent monolith is a cultural icon and the pride of the Afrikaner people. Today it is the most visited heritage site of its kind in Gauteng and one of the top ten cultural historical visitor attractions in the country. It is a unique monument in a beautiful setting and on 8 July 2011 was declared a National Heritage Site by the SAHRA.
to stand as a memorial for a thousand years and longer, and to explain the history and significance of the Great Trek to the generations to come it was the architect Gerard Moerdijk's dream. Built in Art Deco style with elements
of traditional African symbolism added it was to become his
The Monument was erected to commemorate the bravery and persistence of the Afrikaner pioneers (The Voortrekkers), who embarked from the British-controlled Cape Colony on their Great Trek north into the interior (1835 - 1854).
The laying of the corner stone of the Voortrekker Monument took place on 16 December 1938 and on the 16 December 1949 (eleven years later) the monument was inaugurated.
Assegais were a type of spear carried by the Zulus with whom the Voortrekkers came into conflict and symbolised the power of King Dingane as he attempted to bar the way of the pioneers into the interior. The black wrought-iron gate was designed to include the shape of these weapons.
On both sides of the Mother and Child Statue, against the granite wall, two black wildebeest are displayed. These four black wildebeest represent King Dingane's soldiers while symbolising the dangers the women had to face trying to protect their children
and also the dangers encountered by the Voortrekkers as a group on their journeys. The symbolism of the black wildebeest as King Dingane's soldiers is based on oral tradition that claims on the evening of 4 February 1838 as King Dingane and Piet Retief
were signing an agreement on transfer of territory, a great noise was heard outside Dingane's royal kraal. When questioned as to what this noise was, the king answered,
That is my regiment of Wildebeest.
The buffalo is one of South Africa's Big Five and is regarded as the most dangerous of all South African animals. This buffalo head, made of granite, symbolically protects the Monument against attacks from outsiders.
The word cenotaph is derived from the Greek. Made of red granite it forms the central focus point of the Monument. It is the symbolic last resting place of Piet Retief and all the Voortrekkers who perished during the Great Trek and is the most sensitive
area of the Voortrekker Monument. Activities within its walls are therefore limited to religious and culture related events.
Engraved on the cenotaph are the words,
Ons vir jou, Suid-Afrika - a phrase taken from South Africa's former National Anthem,
Die Stem van Suid-Afrika. Every year on 16 December, the date in 1838 on which the Battle of Blood River took place, at twelve o'clock
(noon), a ray of sunlight shines through the opening in the upper dome of the Monument and falls directly onto the cenotaph. This ray of sunlight is considered to be a symbol of God's blessing upon the work and aspirations of the Voortrekkers.
The Cenotaph Hall consists of a 34,5 × 34,5 metre area and is decorated with flags from the various Voortrekker Republics. Its famous and magnificent wall tapestries depicting the Voortrekkers, as well as many other artefacts from the Great Trek, produce the magnetism that draws many visitors.
The four corner figures of granite, each 5.5 metres in height, represent Voortrekker leaders. The figure on the north-western corner represents Andries Pretorius, the one on the north-eastern corner, Piet Retief and the one on the south-western corner, Hendrik Potgieter. The statue on the south-eastern corner, an Unknown Voortrekker Leader, is in memory of all the other great leaders such as Sarel Cilliers, Gerrit Maritz, Louis Tregardt and Piet Uys.
The corner stone of the Monument was laid on 16 December 1938 by three direct descendants of Voortrekker leaders. The following items are concealed behind the corner stone : a copy of the diary of Jan van Riebeeck; a copy of the Piet Retief-Dingane treaty; a copy of the covenant taken by a group of Voortrekkers before the Battle of Blood River, a copy of the former National Anthem of South Africa and an authorised version of the Dutch Bible.
Above the Hall of Heroes there is a dome with a large round opening in its middle. Above this dome there is a second dome which represents the world globe. The top dome is symbolic of the scope of the Voortrekker's journey into the interior and had the lines of this globe been extended they would have enclosed the entire Monument in one immense circle.
During the centenary festival of the Great Trek in 1938 a country-wide torch-bearing procession was held by a cultural youth movement of the Voortrekkers which reached its climax at the Monument. One of these torches was given to the Monument to be kept in custody and this bronze lamp, in a marble niche in the Cenotaph Hall, has since been kept burning as a memorial to the role the Voortrekkers played in the development of South Africa.
The marble floor in the Hall of Heroes depicts ever-widening circular patterns. This design represents ripples after a stone has been cast into water, becoming progressively wider until it filled the entire Hall. It symbolises the diffusion of the spirit of sacrifice which was generated by the Voortrekkers and which eventually spread throughout the entire country.
This bronze statue, four metres high, represents a Voortrekker mother with her two children and gives a place of honour to the role and contribution of the women and children during the great Trek. Designed by the famous south African sculptor, Anton van Wouw, the statue is symbolic of the culture and Christian values which were maintained and consolidated by the women folk during the Great Trek.
Around the top of the Monument there is a cornice with triangular motifs in a zig-zag pattern. In ancient buildings and writings this zig-zag pattern represented water and was also used as a fertility symbol. The zig-zag pattern was used therefore to symbolise the cultural heritage of the Voortrekkers which needed to expand.
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