Pretoria, South Africa’s capital city, is a cultural hot spot and has much to offer to anyone interested in history and local traditions. From obvious attractions, such as the Voortrekker Monument, to more obscure and niche specialities, Pretoria has fascinating museums to cater to everyone’s interests.
Voortrekker Monument, Museum and Heritage Centre
The Voortrekker Monument commemorates the history of the Afrikaner people and is one of the most-visited heritage sites in South Africa. It features a unique architectural design that allows the sun to shine through an opening in the dome once a year (on 16 December) to illuminate the patriotic words carved into the cenotaph, the symbolic grave of all the pioneers who died during the Great Trek. The museum contains an impressive display of Voortrekker memorabilia, while the Heritage Centre consists of interactive exhibitions that aim to objectively explain the role and contributions of the Afrikaner people to South Africa.
On a hill overlooking the city, the Freedom Park memorial honours the sacrifices of those who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom and celebrates the diversity of the South African people. The park comprises a series of sites, linked by a spiral pathway that explores culture, heritage, history, indigenous knowledge and spirituality through African architecture, landscaping and sculpture. The museum itself tells an interactive story of Africa, starting millions of years ago with African legends, and winds its way through history to include the eras of colonisation, industrialisation, nationalism and finally democracy.
The third fort to be constructed for the protection of Pretoria before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), Fort Klapperkop has been restored to its original state to showcase these 19th-century defensive fortifications. The museum displays military memorabilia, rifles and furniture from the period, while an old steam locomotive and Pretoria’s last tram is also situated on the grounds. The magnificent hilltop view make this the perfect picnic spot, while the rough terrain is a favourite of hikers and mountain bikers alike.
The Pretoria Art Museum focuses on collecting and displaying South African art, currently displaying over 3,000 pieces. The collection houses art from such well-known artists as Henk Pierneef, Frans Oerder, Anton van Wouw and Irma Stern, while the growing contemporary collection features work by Sam Nhlengethwa, Walter Oltmann, Lucas Sithole and Judith Mason. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and guided tours of the collection can be arranged upon request.
Built in 1884, Kruger House was the original home of Paul Kruger, third president of the Republic of South Africa. This Victorian-style house situated not far from Church Square was one of the first in the city to use electricity, as well as the first to have a telephone installed. It has been refurbished to reflect the period in which ‘Oom Paul’ and his second wife Gezina lived there from 1883-1901, before he was exiled to Europe.
Formerly known as the Transvaal Museum, the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History houses collections that exhibit the natural heritage of South Africa, including hominid fossils from the Cradle of Humankind at Maropeng and the world-famous Mrs Ples, the fossilised skull that provides compelling evidence for the hypothesis that humanity originated in Africa. The museum is located within a beautiful sandstone building in the heart of the business district. The enormous skeleton of a dinosaur grabs the imagination at the entrance, while interactive displays of birds, animals, insects and geological collections are sure to keep the whole family entertained.
Businessman and entrepreneur Sammy Marks and his family resided in the beautiful Victorian mansion that today houses the Sammy Marks Museum. Tours of the lavishly furnished house are informative and entertaining, and if you’re lucky you might even hear what are supposedly the cries of the resident ghost. The mansion is surrounded by expansive gardens, perfect for exploring on a sunny day, while the tea garden serves delicious high tea upon request.
The African Window Cultural History Museum has a collection of over 5 million items, including textiles, clothing, art and furniture from various cultural groups. Exhibition highlights include rock paintings from the San, South Africa’s only truly indigenous people, and archaeological material from the Stone and Iron Ages. It also showcases a collection of Cape Dutch furniture. The aim of the museum is to promote living culture through song, dance and drama, and it hosts regular visual-arts festivals to celebrate South Africa’s inclusive heritage.
Perhaps your interests lie in farming implements, animal-drawn vehicles and homemade goods such as cookies, jams and soaps. If so, then the Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum on the outskirts of Pretoria is just the place for you. The family-friendly farmstead allows visitors to take a step back in time to experience South African farming through the ages. Children will be delighted to see the Nguni cattle, painted Persian sheep and other domesticated animals, while adults can partake in the Mampoer (home-distilled fruit liquor) distilling attraction. The Museum also plays host to an annual Mampoer festival, a fun event that includes liqueur-tasting, traditional food stalls and a flea market.
The open air Pioneer Museum is a restored Victorian farmstead that features a horse mill, threshing floor, a traditional herb and vegetable garden, orchards and a vineyard. Guides in period clothing provide tours of the homestead that include clay oven baking, candle making and cow milking. Children are sure to enjoy the farm atmosphere where they can see chickens, ducks, cows, goats, donkeys and even peacocks on the premises. Visitors can make use of the picnic and braai facilities (grilling over an open fire) for a fun-filled day out.
Ever wondered what life inside a prison looks like? A visit to the Correctional Services Museum lets the visitor see behind the scenes of the Pretoria Central Prison, first with a walk through the prison itself before you enter the museum with its displays showing how the penal system in South Africa developed over the years. Visitors can also view objects made by prisoners, both during legal hobby activities and illegally made and subsequently confiscated. The exhibit culminates in a photographic display that shows prisoners throughout the ages. Entrance is free.