World Facts Index > South Africa > Pretoria

A relatively small city, Pretoria lies about 50km north of Johannesburg and is approximately three degrees warmer than its southern cousin. Although largely a government-based city, it is also a place of culture, with theatres, museums and monuments.

Greater Pretoria is a city of science and technology, knowledge and industry in the true sense of the word.

As the academic, scientific and technological capital of South Africa, the city has the most highly developed technology and research sector in Africa.

Four universities and a number of scientific institutes, including the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute, both internationally respected.

Jacarandas throw a blanket of mauve over this, slightly, more sedate city. Even so, Pretoria boasts superb shopping centres, museums, art galleries and restaurants.
There is also an abundance of open spaces ' Pretoria has more than 100 parks, including bird sanctuaries and nature reserves.

The Pretoria National Botanical Gardens offer more than 5,000 indigenous plant species. Not far from there the Fountains Valley Resort, just outside the city offers walks, trails and picnic areas.

City Centre

The centre of the city, rich in history and architectural gems, houses the African Window Museum and Church Square where you'll find the Palace of Justice, the Old Capitol Theatre, the Paul Kruger statue, the Tudor Chambers the 'Ou Raadsaal' and the General Post Office, designed by John Cleland. Above the Church Square entrance is a clock surrounded by sculptor Anton van Wouw's. The city centre also offers the Museum Mall designed along the lines of the American Smithsonian Institute in Washington.

To the south of the city centre up Paul Kruger street ' about a 20 minute walk ' is the Station Building, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who also has, to his credit, the Union Buildings.

Burgers Park

Close to that is the suburb of Burgers Park, including Melrose House, a fascinating museum which warrants a full mornings visit. Burgers Park has many villas built from the wealth acquired from the boom on the Witwatersrand gold field during the 1880s and 1890s.


A few blocks north of the city centre is Marabastad, where you'll experience the colours and hustle and bustel of Africa. There are fascinating shops like the 'muti' shops of the 'Sangomas' (traditional healers), cinemas and a mosque recalling the vibrant, cultural and religious life of Marabastad. Famous for its beauty and ingenuity in building construction, the Mariammen Temple stands witness to a once devoted Hindu community.

About five city blocks to the east of Marabastad are the National Zoological Gardens.

Sunnyside, Arcadia and Hatfield

Backtrack south to Church Street (the longest urban street in South Africa), then go east and on the left, are the Union Buildings with their beautiful gardens and sweeping lawns. The massive building, started in 1901 and completed in 1913, cost 1,180,000 pounds Stirling.

This is where you'll find the suburbs of Sunnyside, Arcadia and Hatfield ' the most popular areas for embassies, shopping centres, pretty lanes, beautiful old homes and the University of Pretoria. In fact, these are the most affluent and interesting suburbs of the city.

Hatfield boasts bars, cafes, boutiques, sidewalk coffee shops and restaurants from which you can soak up the South African sun and watch the passing parade of students, artists, street artists and sidewalk traders selling stuff from all over Africa.

About ten minutes from there, in the suburb of Arcadia, is the Pretoria Art Museum, the showplace for the finest South African (and often international) art.


To the south, are the hilly, gracious and large suburbs of Waterkloof Ridge and Waterkloof Glen. Its here that the very wealthy reside, viewing Pretoria from their lofty homes.


To the south of the city, and heading towards Johannesburg is Centurion, of note primarily for the Voortrekker Monument and its attractive parks.

History of Pretoria

Pretoria was first called Petoriusdorp ' a little later, someone with a knowledge of Latin suggested the name Pretorium. To the relief of many the name Pretoria was finally adopted.

Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa. The Volksraad agreed to the establishment of a town as well as to the name Pretoria. The actual date of this decision was the 16th December 1855 and this date is regarded as Pretorias birthday. Prior to this decision there was some difficulty about the choice of a name. Pretoriusdorp, Pretorium, Pretoriusstad and Pretoria-Philadelphia were among the suggestions. But Pretoria was selected. It was the choice of the son, Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, who wished to honour the memory of his father, Commandant-General Andries Pretorius, the hero of Blood River and negotiator with Britain of the Sand River Convention, which acknowledged the independence of the Transvaal." Pretoria became the seat of government on 1 May 1860.

The bid by Potchefstroom (a conservative medium-sized town about 300 kilometres to the west of Johannesburg) to secure the role as the capital of what used to be called the province of Transvaal failed, and the Volksraad (parliament) was established in Pretoria.

Relations between the gold mining industry and the leaders of the Transvaal Republic (ZAR) were often strained, but it is a credit to the Boer leaders who, not only maintained a semblance of control over the miens but also prospered from the growing revenues.

The Jameson Raid, an ill-conceived plant o take over the Transvaal failed, creating an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion that was to lead to eventual war with Britain in 1899.

While Johannesburg was the scene of many dramatic incidents, the focus now moves to Pretoria, where apartheid was actually administered (Pretoria is the administrative capital of the country).

Pretoria Central, where a number of people convicted of atrocities during the apartheid years are now imprisoned. This was also the location of Death Row in South Africa, and the place where one of the youngest black activists to be hung for political activity, Solomon Mahlangu, a resident of Mamelodi township outside Pretoria, died in 1976.

There is now a square in the township named after Mahlangu, with a dramatic statue commemorating his life. A number of white activists received very long sentences in Pretoria Central. The longest serving of these was activist Denis Goldberg, who served some 20 years.

Church Square (which includes the Palace of Justice and a statue of the legendary boer leader Paul Kruger) is a site full of associations with a number of struggles for freedom.

The turreted Palace of Justice was the scene of one of the most famous of South Africas major political trials, the Rivonia Trial, during which Nelson Mandela and a number of major heroes of the struggle for racial freedom was charged with treason and subsequently incarcerated.

The Union Buildings, were built in the early years of the 20th century ' during the period of political Union between the former British colonies of the Cape and Natal and the two Boer Republics. The Union Buildings embody much of the philosophy held by the British at the time over the way colonies should be run and governed.

The Union period of South Africas history (1902-10) was about building bridges between the Boers and Britain after the bitterness of the Boer War ' but no one gave thought or attention to the rights of black South Africans. It was soon after the Act of Union was passed in 1920 that the first broad-based African movement was formed specifically to lobby and work for black rights in South Africa.

This organisation, formed in 1912, was the forerunner of the African National Congress. The most famous occasions now held at the Union Buildings are the inauguration ceremonies of the countrys presidents.


Custom Search

Copyright 2005