For such a young city, Pretoria has a remarkable amount of history. The administrative capital of South Africa was once the headquarters of the apartheid state before hosting the inauguration of president Nelson Mandela and is the current home of President Thabo Mbeki. Although Pretoria has a slower pace than Johannesburg or other major cities in the region, it is on track to be the home of over 20 million people in just 15 years. Today, thousands of students drive its vibrant atmosphere while retaining its distinctly Afrikaans culture.
Just outside the city center are rows upon rows of sweeping sandstone buildings. Inside are the presidential and government offices, ruling over the country from their elevated position above terraced gardens lush with indigenous flowers and trees. Mandela’s inauguration was held there in 1994, and the gardens are often the site of public celebrations. The grounds are dotted with statues of a handful of former prime ministers, including a particularly impressive one of General Louis Botha. Memorials to the South African police and the soldiers who fought in the Second World War are also open to the public.
For many Afrikaners, visiting the Voortrekker Monument on Eeufees Road is akin to a spiritual experience. The Voortrekkers were pioneers who left the British Cape Colony during the 1830s and 1840s to the heart of what today is South Africa. Nearly 500 of the Voortrekkers fought in the 1938 Battle of Blood River, which, according to the locals, demonstrated their God-given right to existence as independent people. Over 250,000 people attended the monument’s unveiling in 1949, and today it houses a small museum that details the pioneers’ experience.
At the heart of the city lies Church Square, a lovely plaza surrounded by imposing public buildings. The northern side is dominated by the Palace of Justice, where Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. On the southern side is the Old Government building, and the rest of the square is surrounded by the First National Bank, the Tourist Information Center, the Old Nederlandsche Bank building, the Old Capitol Theater and the main post office.
One of the best museums in the capital is the Transvaal Museum, dedicated to natural history. Some of the most impressive exhibits are actually just outside the building, including replica skeletons of giant dinosaurs and a huge whale. Inside, a series of thought-provoking and eye-catching exhibits include everything from shark fossils to stuffed birds, creepy cockroaches and shining precious stones.
The National Cultural History Museum is also worth a visit. Dedicated to the country’s cultural heritage, the collection includes Iron Age figurines excavated from Limpopo, San rock art and a small but well-curated gallery of contemporary local art. The Pretoria Art Museum also highlights local artists and gives a good overview of the cultural influences that shaped the country’s modern art.
Arguably the most grand building in Pretoria is the Melrose House, a splendid mansion that today is a national monument. Built in 1886, the home is an outstanding example of both the Cape Dutch and English Victorian styles that includes an elegant billiard room, vibrant stained-glass windows and a fascinating collection of political cartoons that stem from the Anglo-Boer War.
Other sights in Pretoria worth exploring include the South African Police Museum, the Pretoria National Zoological Gardens, Heroes’ Acre Cemetery and Freedom Park, a memorial to those who died in the struggle for independence.
Pretoria Geographical Location
Pretoria is located in the north central area of South Africa and is surrounded by the Magaliesberg Range.
The approximate population of Pretoria is 2,350,000.
IsiZulu, IdiXhosa, Afrikaans, Sepedi, English, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, siSwati, Tshivenda, and IsiNdebele are all official languages of South Africa.
Pretoria Predominant Religion
- 37% Protestant
- 36% Other Christian
- 15% None
- 7% Catholic
- 3.5% Other
- 1.5% Muslim
South Africa has had a diverse religious past, although in present day there is a significant percentage that claims no religion, and still has Jewish, Hinduism, and traditional religions within its population.
The Rand is the official currency of South Africa.
Summer temperatures comprise the majority of the year and the short winters are pleasantly warm. Winter is also the driest part of the year with hardly any rainfall.
Pretoria Main Attractions
- Pretoria Zoo
- Freedom Park
- Pretoria National Botanical Garden
Other Attraction in Pretoria
- Rietvlei Nature Reserve
- Cullinan Diamond Mine
- Stamp Museum
- Kolonnade Ice Rink