The Voortrekker Monument

On my last trip to South Africa, I took my children to a monument I had last seen when I was a little older than them: the Voortrekker Monument found just outside of Pretoria. It was just as I had remembered; but as an adult I was more impressed by the architecture than I had been as a pre-adolescent.

In front of the Voortrekker Monument, and the first flight of stairs I climbed to get to the top. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The building was designed by Gerard Moerdijk as a reminder of the experiences of the early voortrekkers (pioneers) who left the safety of the Cape colony for the unknown lands of the interior between 1835 and 1854. This unusual building was completed and inaugurated by D.F.Malan, the then South African president, on 16 December 1949. The date for the inauguration was chosen as December 16 was the Day of Covenant: a day that used to commemorate the day on which the Afrikaner triumphed over the Zulu in the Battle of the Blood River.

The Voortrekker Monument seen up close. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The Voortrekker Monument looks like a huge cube. It is 40 meters high and its base is 40m x 40m. It does not look like a regular square, though, as pictures have been carved into the stone, and statues adorn each corner. The statues are of the leaders of the early Voortrekkers: Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius, Hendrik Potgieter, and an unknown leader who represents all other Voortrekker leaders.

A statue of a voortrekker leader on a corner of the monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The monument has four huge arched windows, one on each face of the cube-like building, made from Belgian glass. I liked the way the sunlight filtered through the windows to light up the interior of the building.

Sun filtering through stone windows of the Voortrekker Monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

To reach the dome of the building, we had to climb many stairways. Recently an elevator has been installed for those unable to  climb the steep and narrow stairs.

A stairwell leading to the monument’s dome. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

From the top landing we could see the ground floor as well as the cenotaph in the basement.

Sunlight lightens the interior of the building as seen from the top of the monument. From this view you can also see the Cenotaph. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The Cenotaph, which can be found in the basement, is the focus of the building (it can be seen from different points in the monument). This stone is the symbolic resting place of Piet Retief and his men; and serves to remind the world and the descendants that the voortrekkers made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for their ideals and freedom. On December the 16th at 12 noon, a ray of sunlight shines through the opening of the dome onto the cenotaph, lighting up the words “Ons vir jou, Suid Afrika” (We for thee, South Africa). The ray of light is believed to be a symbol of God’s blessing on the lives and aspirations of the voortrekkers.

The Cenotaph found in the Voortrekker Monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The historical marble frieze which is placed on the four walls of the building distinguishes the Voortrekker Monument from other monuments. Consisting of 27 bas-relief panels, it is the biggest marble frieze in the world. The panels depict scenes of everyday life and work of the voortrekkers, their religious beliefs, and the story of The Great Trek.

The Voortrekkers preparing to leave the Cape colony. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The scenes begin with the start of the journey from the Cape colony, show the trials they faced while travelling, and depict the fighting between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus. The signing of the Sand River Convention in 1852 is shown in the last panel .

Fighting between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

One panel shows the signing of the treaty between the Voortrekkers and Dingaan, the leader of the Zulus.

Piet Retief and Dingaan signing a peace treaty. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The turning of the Zulus against the Voortrekkers in their own laager is depicted; as well as the historic consequent battle between the Zulus and the Afrikaners in the Battle of the Blood River. The battle was so named because with the death of so many people the water in the river turned red.

The Battle of the Blood River. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

The outside of the monument was as cleverly designed as the interior. From outside on the top of the monument you can see the wall that surrounds the monument. Wagons have been carved into the stone and they symbolise the laager that the voortrekkers used when they set up camp. These laagers were placed in a circle to protect themselves from wild animals and from the African tribes living in the interior.

Wagons carved into stone of exterior wall. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

From the balcony outside the dome, one also has a view of the city, Pretoria.

A hazy view of Pretoria. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

Walking along the exterior wall, you can clearly see how the wagons have been carved into the stone of the wall.

The exterior wall of the Voortrekker Monument. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

Gardens of indigenous plants abound on the outside of the exterior wall – a perfect place for a picnic lunch!

In the gardens with the monument in the background. © Colline Kook-Chun, 2012

I enjoyed my visit to the Voortrekker Monument and was surprised by how much history I had remembered from my school days. We ended our visit with a picnic lunch in the gardens listening to the sound of the trees and birds.

Would you take a trip to see this monument?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2012


54 thoughts on “The Voortrekker Monument

  1. Always wanted to but you spared me the trouble Colline! Thanks hon! I don’t like the traffic there in Pretoria. It stresses me out completely and I get migraines. Thanks for sharing this awesome experience and these gorgeous shots hon! 🙂


      1. Oh absolutely! Now if I can only turn this into an island with us as the only people living here with a moat around it filled with sharks then my life will be perfect! LOL!


    1. You don’t really find craftmanship like this anymore. The marble frieze is beautiful and really highlights talented carving. Certainly a visit worth making.


  2. WOW! This is great post dear Colline… you took me to this wonderful place and to her stories and history… Amazing all these photographs, especially the panels on the wall fascinated me so much… Thank you dear Colline, it was a great voyage for me at my desk. And you are so beautiful. I love to see your smiling face, you are here as if when I am writing to you… 🙂 Blessing and Happiness, with my love, nia


    1. Thank you so much Nia 🙂
      There are so many more panels to show but I did not want the post to be too long. That might be content for another post.


  3. Oh Colline! What a beautifully photographed tour you have given us of this monument that you have also well documented. I love the story you tell of it in words and picture. Yes, if it were possible, I would visit there. I loved your different views of the stairways and the above picture of the patterned floor. The closeup of the carved images and wagons are priceless. Thank you for sharing.



  4. I would indeed visit this monument…and thanks to your post, I feel as though I just did. Great photos Colline…and a history lesson as well! I was thinking this is where to took the photo for your recent Sun-Photo Challenge post (and I just went back to check!). Very interesting place.


  5. Colline,
    I lived there maybe,13 plus years and saw the monument about 4 times taking others to site see. Lovely reminder, and very well put. It was always artistic to me, but definately ‘cold’ was a word that came to mind. Cold as in a tomb, which in a way it was meant to imply.
    Strong, focused determined men and women, who had to go forward or die. Much respect always.


    1. It always takes a special type of person who is prepared to move forward into the unknown. Others are like the voortrekkers were: the pioneers to the wild west in America, the first men who travelled in space, the first adventurers who sailed the seas. If it were not for the determination and adventurous spirit of people such as these, many things in our world would not have changed.


  6. Hi,
    Wow, what a fantastic building, and I loved all the art work attached to it, all beautifully done, and that wagon wall is magnificent I have never seen anything like it.
    It must of been wonderful for you to go back and see these places again and introduce the children to them as well.


  7. Yes … I would visit this, but I’m not in South Africa and its not on my immediate itinerary. 😉 … Excellent photography as well.

    A personal question.What country do you live?


  8. I’d never heard of the Voortrekkers, but the word is certainly understandable as ‘people who trek forth.” As for Colline, is that an alternate spelling of Colleen, or is it possibly taken from the French colline that means hill?


  9. That’s an imposing monument, Colline. I enjoyed looking at your photos (relief is fantastic), and it is so good to see your face again 🙂


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