Voortrekker Monument - Commemorating the Great Trek
On 16 December 1949, the Voortrekker Monument was inaugurated, a design by Gerard Moerdijk. This impressive architectural structure was built in honor of the Voortrekkers, who left the Cape Colony in their thousands between 1835 and 1854. This was to be known as the “Great Trek”. The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria was merely an idea envisioned by President Paul Kruger in 1888, and only in December 1938 was the first cornerstone was laid. In 1949, an amphitheatre to seat almost 20,000 was erected north-east of the monument.
There are 27 panels within the Vootrekker Monument that not only depict the Great Trek, but also their work methods, religion and the every day activities of the Voortrekkers. The focal point of the Voortrekker Monument, is the 34.5 x 34.5 meter, Cenotaph (meaning empty tomb) room, made from red granite. As the name might suggest, this is the symbolic resting place of the Voortrekkers who died during the Great Trek and of Piet Retief. So carefully constructed, Gerard Moerdijk took note of every detail, and therefore on 16 December every year, the sun warms the cenotaph though an opening in the dome, to highlight the words: “Ons vir jou, Suid-Africa” (We for thee, South Africa). God’s blessing on the work and life of the Voortrekkers is symbolized by this effective event. The lantern on the northern wall, has been kept burning since 1938, symbolic to the Ox Wagon trek that started in the Western Cape, and ended on Monument Hill, where the first cornerstone was laid. Artifacts and the spectacular, famous tapestry, depicting the Great Trek can be viewed here. Nine women, worked for eight years, to complete the 3.3 million stitches on the tapestry, which contains five scenes.
At the entrance of the Voortrekker Monument, visitors pass through the black iron gates, with the motifs of “assegaai” to symbolize the power of Dingaan, who obstructed the entry into the country’s interior. Just past the gates, surrounding the monument, is a wagon laager. Made out of granite, the 64 wagons symbolize the protection of the monument. The same number of wagons were used in the Battle of Blood River. Inside the laager, at the foot of the Voortrekker Monument, is the bronze sculpture by Anton van Wouw, of a Voortrekker mother and her two children. It serves as a reminder of the strength and sacrifice, the families had to endure during the trek.
Other sites and activities at the Voortrekker Monument include cycling and horse trails, the Heritage Foundation, Wagon Rides, picnic area, virtual shopping, Blood River Heritage Site, amphitheatre and gift shop. Events change regularly, with antique and collectables fairs. The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria is truly a wonderful site to visit, filled with art, history and architecture.