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The Voortrekker Monument


The Voortrekker Monument

The Voortrekker Monument Pretoria stands over 40 meters tall on its hilltop home, and is visible from a large part of Pretoria.

It was built to describe the history of the Afrikaner pioneers who left the Cape Colony, where they suffered under British rule, to travel to the interior of the country from 1835 to 1854 on what has come to be known as the Great Trek.




Both within and around the monument, every aspect of the building has a historic or symbolic significance.

A unique marble Frieze circles the inside walls of the Voortrekker Monument. In bas-relief, 27 panels depict the story of the Great Trek from 1835 to 1852. The Frieze not only shows the history of the Great Trek, but also shows how the Voortrekkers went about their every day lives. It also provides an insight on their religious beliefs and work methods of the Voortrekkers and historic wars, such as the Battle of Bloodriver.

Cenotaph Hall is located on the lower floor, and is home to the Cenotaph (empty tomb).

On 16 December every year the sun shines down through a small hole in the centre of the Voortrekker Monument roof, onto the Cenotaph, lighting up the enscribed words: "Ons vir jou Suid Africa" ("We for thee, South Africa"). Many thousands of South African's travel from a far for this special memorial event. 

The Voortrekker Monument is located just south of Pretoria in South Africa. This massive granite structure is prominently located on a hilltop, and was raised to commemorate the Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854.On 8 July 2011 the Voortrekker Monument, designed by the architect Gerard Moerdijk, was declared a National Heritage Site by the South African Heritage Resource Agency.

The idea to build a monument in honour of the Voortrekkers was first discussed on 16 December 1888, when President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic attended the Day of the Covenant celebrations at Blood River in Natal. However, the movement to actually build such a monument only started in 1931 when the Sentrale Volksmonumentekomitee (SVK) (Central People's Monuments Committee) was formed to bring this idea to fruition.


Construction started on 13 July 1937 with a sod turning ceremony performed by chairman of the SVK, Advocate Ernest George Jansen, on what later became known as Monument Hill. On 16 December 1938 the cornerstone was laid by three descendants of some of the Voortrekker leaders: Mrs. J.C. Muller (granddaughter of Andries Pretorius), Mrs. K.F. Ackerman (great-granddaughter of Hendrik Potgieter) and Mrs. J.C. Preller (great-granddaughter of Piet Retief).


The Monument was inaugurated on 16 December 1949 by the then-prime minister D. F. Malan.The total construction cost of the Monument was about £ 360,000, most of which was contributed by the South African government.A large amphitheatre, which seats approximately 20,000 people, was erected to the north-east of the Monument in 1949.Physically, the Voortrekker Monument is 40 metres high, with a base of 40 metres by 40 metres.The building has strong architectural resemblance to German monuments, in particular the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig. The two main points of interest inside the building are the Historical Frieze and the Cenotaph.

Historical Frieze


The main entrance of the building leads into the domed Hall of Heroes. This massive space, flanked by four huge arched windows made from yellow Belgian glass, contains the unique marble Historical Frieze which is an intrinsic part of the design of the monument. It is the biggest marble frieze in the world.[citation needed] The frieze consists of 27 bas-relief panels depicting the history of the Great Trek, but incorporating references to every day life, work methods and religious beliefs of the Voortrekkers. The set of panels illustrate key historical scenes starting from the first voortrekkers of 1835, up to the signing of the Sand River Convention in 1852. In the centre of the floor of the Hall of Heroes is a large circular opening through which the Cenotaph in the Cenotaph Hall can be viewed.



The Cenotaph, situated in the centre of the Cenotaph Hall, is the central focus of the monument. In addition to being viewable from the Hall of Heroes it can also be seen from the dome at the top of the building, from where much of the interior of the monument can be viewed. Through an opening in this dome a ray of sunlight shines at twelve o'clock on 16 December annually, falling onto the centre of the Cenotaph, striking the words 'Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika' (Afrikaans for 'We for Thee, South Africa'). The ray of light is said to symbolise God's blessing on the lives and endeavours of the Voortrekkers. December 16, 1838 was the date of the Battle of Blood River, commemorated in South Africa before 1994 as the Day of the Vow.


The Cenotaph Hall is decorated with the flags of the different Voortrekker Republics and contains wall tapestries depicting the Voortrekkers as well as several display cases with artefacts from the Great Trek. Against the northern wall of the hall is a nave with a lantern in which a flame has been kept burning ever since 1938. It was in that year that the Symbolic Ox Wagon Trek, which started in Cape Town and ended at Monument Hill where the Monument's foundation stone was laid, took place.

Other features

Visitors to the monument enter through a black wrought iron gate with an assegai (spear) motif.

After passing through the gate one finds oneself inside a big laager consisting of 64 ox-wagons made out of decorative granite. The same number of wagons were used at the Battle of Blood River to form the laager.


At the foot of the Monument stands Anton van Wouw's bronze sculpture of a Voortrekker woman and her two children, paying homage to the strength and courage of the Voortrekker women. On both sides of this sculpture black wildebeest are chiselled into the walls of the Monument. The wildebeest symbolically depicts the dangers of Africa and their symbolic flight implies that the woman, carrier of Western civilisation, is triumphant.


On each outside corner of the Monument there is a statue, respectively representing Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius, Hendrik Potgieter and an "unknown" leader (representative of all the other Voortrekker leaders). Each statue weighs approximately 6 tons.At the eastern corner of the monument, on the same level as its entrance, is the foundation stone.


Dr Alta Steenkamp, architect and lecturer at the University of Cape Town, has shown architectural links to exist between the Voortrekker Monument and the German Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Leipzig, Germany.According to Steenkamp the masonic subtext of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal is reflected in the Voortrekker Monument, because Moerdyk had used the geometric order, as well as some spatial proportions of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. This Germanisation of the Voortrekker Monument occurred after Moerdyk's original design had caused a public outcry in the white South African press, due to its resemblance to an Egyptian temple.

At first the exterior of the monument consisted of a causeway ending in two big Egyptian obelisks.During the year 1936, when finalising the design of the Voortrekker Monument, architect Gerard Moerdijk visited Egypt, including the Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor (Thebes).In Thebes, the pharaoh Akhenaten, Nefertiti's husband, had erected three sun sanctuaries, one of which was called the Hwt-benben ('mansion of the Benben').Despite the externally revised Voortrekker Monument into a Germanised mansion of the Benben, the interior retained visible links to the civilization of ancient Africa in Egypt, as per Moerdyk's original design. The most important annual event is the sun's shining on the centrally placed sarcophagus at noon on the 16th of December.

In the years just before WWII, Germany was the rising European power, and several Afrikaner nationalists travelled to Germany for academic studies, as well as for political and cultural inspiration.During 1934 Chancellor Hitler decided that Germany would not return the bust of Nefertiti to Egypt, and announced his intention to use Nefertiti's bust as the centrepiece of the Third Reich, in its revitalised capital to be renamed Germania.Likewise Moerdijk's Voortrekker Monument with corresponding ancient Egyptian sun symbolism overlooking Pretoria, became a beacon of the republic of South-Africa, and is today its biggest international tourist attraction.

Architectural plan


The Monument consists of three levels: bottom cellar, middle hall and top dome. In the bottom cellar is an empty tomb stone called the Cenotaph, or Sarcophagus according to Moerdijk in his own words.The middle Hall of Heroes harbours the historical wall frieze. The upper dome with Egyptian backlighting , simulates the open sky.A round floor opening in the Hall of Heroes, is situated directly above the Cenotaph. The ray of sun falls through this opening onto the Cenotaph, projecting a sun disc to illuminate engraved words: "ONS VIR JOU SUID-AFRIKA". The inscription faces the sky, and cannot be read by the visitor standing next to the Cenotaph.

Round floor opening

Looking from the sky dome downwards, a chevron pattern on the floor of the Hall of Heroes, radiates outwards like 32 sun rays from the centre opening. In Moerdijk's architecture, the natural sun forms a 33rd ray through the same opening. Moerdijk said the chevron pattern on the floor depicts water,as does the double chevron hieroglyph fom the civilization of old Egypt. Moerdijk stated that all roads on the terrain of building art, lead back to old Egypt.Based on Moerdijk's reference to the watery floor of the Hall of Heroes, as well as his statement about old Egypt, the opening in the water-floor can be identified with the watery abyss, as in the creation theology of ancient African civilization. Rising out of this watery abyss, was the primeval mound, the Benben stone.

Religious sun ray

Moerdijk's 33rd sun ray shining onto the stone in the midst of the abyss, publicly highlights the creation of a new civilization in Africa. A religious person, Moerdijk was chief architect of 80 Protestant churches in South Africa. In his church designs, Moerdijk stuck to Reformed tradition and had his Renaissance trademark, the Greek-cross floorplan, focus on the pulpit and preacher. In Protestant theology, the word of God is the central church theme.Moerdijk created a similar focus in the Voortrekker Monument, but in vertical instead of horisontal plane, and in African Atenist instead of European Classical style.

Moerdijk's focus point in the Voortrekker Monument are the sky oriented words: "WE FOR YOU SOUTH-AFRICA". This declaration comes from an anthem, Die Stem, in the context of: "We will live, we will die, we for you South-Africa". The anthem ends: "It will be well, God reigns.The sun shining on the Afrikaans inscription "ONS VIR JOU SUID-AFRIKA", symbolises God's blessing on the lives and endeavors of the Voortrekkers.Thus the visible sunlight simulates a connection between the words on the Cenotaph and the heavenly abode above.

Earthly and heavenly vows

Moerdijk did not place a pulpit in the Voortrekker Monument. Without minister or mediator, the written words on the Cenotaph stone cannot be spoken. In Moerdijk's biblical theology though, God can communicate in two ways: through scripture as well as through nature.Moerdijk merges both methods in one revealing moment of space-time. He - the creator God in the trinitarian tradition of the Trekkers - becomes the ONS, within the shining disc illuminating the words on the stone. Via the sun, heaven and earth are simulated to be visibly connected through a ray of light.


The historic vow of the Trekkers was commemorated on 16 December as the Day of the Vow. The appearance of a shining sun disc on the Cenotaph stone, transforms the vow in analogy to the Philosophers Stone of the alchemists. The notion of, as above so below, is turned upside down: as below, so above. Instead of man repeating a human vow from before the Battle of Blood River, the sun shifts the focus to the trinitarian god of the Trekkers, as he communicates through Moerdijk's sun architecture, making himself a heavenly vow with the Afrikaans words: ONS - as in GOD - VIR JOU SUID-AFRIKA.

The idea that God was for South Africa, originates from the 9 December 1838 vow of Trekker leader Andries Pretorius at Danskraal, who at around the same time made military and political alliances with Christian Zulus like prince Mpande.

Egyptian origin

The architects of Egyptian civilization are considered famous for their monuments. Moerdijk himself was an outspoken ancient Egyptian architect.Moerdijk referred to Africa's greatness as imparted by ancient Egyptian constructions at the inauguration of the Voortrekker Monument.Before his public Voortrekker Monument proposal

was accepted, Moerdijk and Anton van Wouw had been working in alliance for many years on their "dream castle" project: a modern African-Egytian Voortrekker Temple in South-Africa. Van Wouw and Frans Soff had earlier employed the Egyptian obelisk, a petrified ray of the African Aten, as central motif for the National Women's Monument in Bloemfontein, South Africa, itself likewise inaugurated on the Day of the Vow, 16 December 1913.


Whilst finalising the design of the Voortrekker Monument in 1936,Moerdijk went on a research sojourn to Egypt. There he visited the Karnak Temple Complex at Luxor(ancient Thebes, city of Amen), where an African Renaissance had flourished under Pharaoh Amenhotep IV, the husband of Nefertiti.The open air temples of Amenhotep IV to the Aten incorporated the Heliopolitan tradition of employing sun rays in architecture, including realistic Amarna wall reliefs or friezes.Moerdijk also visited the Cairo Museum, where a copy of the Great Hymn to the Aten is on display, some verses of which remind of Psalm 104.Moerdyk's wife Sylva related that Moerdijk was intimately acqainted with ancient Egyptian architecture,and architecturally strongly influenced by his visit to Egypt.

Architectural symbol and purpose


Moerdijk stated that the purpose of a building had to be clearly visible.The monotheistic creator aspect of Ra, symbolised by the blistering sun at mid-noon as felt in Africa, was in Nefertiti's time known as Aten. Aten was written as a sun dot enclosed by a circle in Egyptian hieroglyphics.The African Aten-hieroglyph is depicted in the Voortrekker Monument when the sun shines through an aperture in the top dome. Looking upwards on 16 December at mid noon, this aperture becomes visible as a backlit dot inside the round dome with its own Egyptian style backligting.Likewise, looking from the visitors walkway around the top dome down, the round floor aperture in the Hall of Heroes is again seen to encircle the disc illumination, when the sun's rays strike the cenotaph stone on 16 December at mid noon.

Moerdijk's monumental message as implied by the wall frieze: by exodus out of the British Cape Colony, God created a new African civilization inland.In order to give thanks to this new creation of civilization, Moerdijk, recalling Abraham of old, outwardly designed the Voortrekker Monument as an altar

Grounds around the Monument


The Voortrekker Monument is surrounded by a circular wall engraved with wagons—a depiction of the historical Trekker practice of "circling the wagons" during defense under attack.Outside the wagon wall is an elaborate botanical garden. Small streams running through the garden are labeled with signs representing major rivers of South Africa. Also, miniature huts, 1/8 scale, are scattered about the garden, representing tribal villages.The spatial impression thus created is that of the Voortrekker Monument as a cultural construction tapering towards the sun, representing an indigenous civilization of the African Sun with its life giving white light, protected by a chain of wagons keeping it apart from the natural wilderness of continental Africa, represented by beautiful dark green gardens.


The Pretoria Forts consisted mainly of four forts built by the government of the South African Republic (ZAR) just before the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War around Pretoria.

After the abortive Jameson Raid, the government of the ZAR became concerned about the safety of its capital city, Pretoria, both from foreign invasion as well as from the growing number of Uitlanders (Foreigners) on the Witwatersrand.Consequently, a defence plan for Pretoria was drawn up by a former French artillery officer, Leon Grunberg. This plan was approved on 24 March 1896 by the Executive Council of the ZAR.

The plan recommended that eight strategic positions around the city should be fortified by means of armoured turrets equipped with artillery. The positions identified were Schanskop, Kwaggaspoort, Daspoortrand, Magaliesberg-wes, Wonderboompoort, Derdepoort, Strubenkop and Klapperkop. The armoured turrets were subsequently found to be unacceptable, and thus the plan of two German engineers, Otto Albert Adolph von Dewitz and Heinrich C Werner to build forts instead, were accepted. However, due to a lack of money, only four forts were eventually built.

Fort Schanskop, Fort Wonderboompoort and Fort Klapperkop were designed by Von Dewitz and Werner of the German engineering company Krupp, assisted by architect Christiaan Kuntz and building contractor Celso Giri.The three forts are pentagonal reinforced, with more fire range possibilities through numerous facets. Attacks from any direction could be warded off by revolving guns on their ramparts. To prevent infantry attacks, loopholes were built into the walls. Trenches, barbed-wire entanglements and fortified rooms were erected as reinforcements.These forts were the most modern structures of their time and modern mediums of communication, such as telephones, were used to equip the telegraph room.Many black labourers and about 400 white builders, mostly Italians, were involved in the building of these forts. To address technical aspects such as the electrical connections between forts, German and Dutch experts were consulted.

This fort was built at a cost of GBP £47,500. It was handed over to the government on 6 April 1897. It was supplied with a paraffin engine powered generator for electricity, electrical lighting and a search light. A telephone and telegraphic links were also installed. Water was supplied from a pump station in the Fountains Valley which was shared with the nearby Fort Klapperkop.The garrison was initially armed with one officer and 30 men and was armed with 37 mm Maxim-Nordenfeldt cannon, Martini-Henry hand-cranked Maxim machine guns and a 155 mm Creusot gun (also known colloquially as a "Long Tom"). By October 1899, only 17 men were still stationed at the fort.

Both the garrison and the armaments were gradually reduced during the course of the Second Anglo-Boer war until there was only one man and no guns left over on 5 June 1900, the day on which British forces occupied Pretoria.The surrounding area currently includes a refurbished statue of Danie Theron which was originally erected at the Danie Theron Combat School in Kimberley. The statue was moved to its current location at Fort Schanskop and unveiled on 6 March 2002.Also included on the premises is a scale model replica of the Trek Monument that was inaugurated on 16 December 1954 in Tanzania (Formerly known as Tanganyika).

Fort Schanskop is a Gauteng Provincial Heritage Site and a South African National monument.

Fort Wonderboompoort

This fort was completed in September 1897 by Von Dewitz and Werner for a total cost of GBP £49,000. As with Fort Schanskop, it was also supplied with electricity, a telephone and running water.The fort was armed with a 75 mm Creusot gun ("Long Tom"), a 37 mm Maxim-Nordenfeldt cannon and a hand-cranked Martin-Henry Maxim. Initially eighteen gunners were stationed in the fort, but both men and armaments were gradually withdrawn until only one gunner and no cannons were left on 5 June 1900 Fort Klapperkorp.

This fort was constructed at a total cost of GBP £50,000. It was handed over to the Government on 18 January 1898. It was supplied with a paraffin engine powered generator for electricity, a telephone and telegraphic links. Running water was supplied from a pump station in the Fountains Valley which was shared with the nearby Fort Schanskop.Unlike the other forts in the surrounding area, the design incorporated a moat as well as a drawbridge. The moat was never filled with water,

Fort Klapperkop was armed with a 155mm Creusot gun Long Tom, a 37 mm Maxim-Nordenfeldt cannon, three Martini-Henry hand-maxims and a 65 mm Krupp Mountain Gun.In January 1899 The fort was manned by 17 troops. In July 1899 the number of troops was increased to 30. By end October 1899, only 16 troops were still stationed at Fort Klapperkop. As with the other forts, men and armament were gradually withdrawn and sent elsewhere during the course of the war.It is said: "Never a shot in anger was fired from this fort.

The area is declared a military museum. On May 31 1979 the South African Defence Force Memorial was unveiled at Fort Klapperkop. It includes a statue of a soldier holding a R1 rifle, in memory of all members of the South African Defence Force who lost their lives serving their country. The individuals who have lost their lives are honored with an inscription on a number of marble plaques mounted around the statue.

Fort Klapperkop is a Gauteng Provincial Heritage Site and a South African National monument.

Fort Daspoortrand

Unlike the other forts, Fort Daspoortrand was built by Leon Grunberg and Sam Leon. It thus differed from the other forts, being hexagonal instead of pentagonal and also markedly bigger. It was completed in November 1898 at a cost of GBP £46,500. Like the other forts, it had electricity, a telephone and running water.Fort Daspoortrand was initially manned by twenty-five gunners and was armed with a 155mm Creusot gun ("Long Tom") and two 37 mm Maxim-Nordenfeldt cannons. As with the other forts, only one soldier and no guns were in the fort on 5 June 1900.

The forts after the war

After the war Fort Klapperkop and Fort Schanskop continued to be used for military purposes, but were neglected. On 8 July 1938 the two forts were declared National Monuments. Fort Klapperkop was restored in 1966 and converted to a military museum and Fort Schanskop followed in 1978.Initially there were plans to convert Fort Wonderboompoort and Fort Daspoortrand into prisons but these were never carried out.

The roofs of both forts were later demolished; it was speculated that General Jan Smuts gave the orders for this during World War II, but this has never been proven.The ownership of Fort Wonderboompoort was transferred to the City Council of Pretoria in 1954. In 1986 it was cleaned up and partially restored; it was declared a National Monument the following year. A request to declare Fort Daspoortrand a National Monument as well was submitted in 1988 but this has not been approved as yet.

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