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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Union Buildings or “Die Uniegebou” in Afrikaans, form the official seat of the South African government. Located in the city of Pretoria, on top of Meintjieskop at the northern end of Arcadia. Considered the highest point of the city, it also houses the President’s office. It stands close to Church Street and the Voortrekker Monument . The buildings are over 285 meters long, and are among the most popular tourists attractions in the country.
ArchitectureBuilt from light sandstone and designed by architect, Sir Herbert Baker, the buildings were designed after the English monumental style. Over 285 meters long and with a semicircular shape and two wings on the sides, the buildings serve to represent a union of the once divided people. The identical clock chimes were inspired by the Big Ben in London. This architectural marvel is considered by many to be the architect’s greatest achievement. The building is divided in three sections including the left offices, amphitheaters, and right offices. Each block has a basement and three floors above ground.
The design of each level is different, as each stone had to be cut individually. Another architectural influence such as the Cape Dutch design has also been used with shutters on the window. Windows from bottom to top are elongated and become shorter towards the top floor, giving an illusion of height.
The matching statues on top of the domed towers are Atlas holding up the world, sculpted by Abraham Broadbent . The other statue on the domed rostrum in the amphitheater between the wings, represents Mercury a mythic Roman messenger and a god of trade sculpted by Georges Ness.
The interior is treated in the Cape Dutch style, with carved teak fanlights, heavy doors, and dark ceilings beam all harmonized with white plaster and heavy wood furniture.
HistoryThe Boer Republics of ZAR and Orange Free State were united with the Cape colony, and lastly the Natal colony in 1910 to become the Union of South Africa. Pretoria then became the administrative capital of the whole of South Africa, resulting in the need for a governmental building that would represent unity.
Marthinus Wessel Pretorius was the original owner of the “Elandsfontein “farm located on Meintjieskop. In 1856, Andries Francois du Toit (1813-1883) acquired part of the farm, which he named “Arcadia” (playground of the Gods), on which the Union Buildings were later constructed. In 1909, Herbert Baker was commissioned to design the government building of the Union. In November 1910, the cornerstone of the building was laid. The Meintjieskop site was chosen by Lord Selborne and H.C Hull. The building project cost an overall price of $2,174,194.48 for the building and $580,608 for the site. It took in total, three years to build it. Finally completed in 1913, this masterpiece took over 1,265 workers, 14 million bricks for interior office walls, half a million cubic feet of freestone, and 74,000 cubic yards of concrete, 40,000 bags of cement and 20,000 cubic feet of granite.
Beautiful terraced gardens of indigenous plants, and various monuments are adorning the expansive lawns, including the Delville Wood War Memorial, and a statue of the country’s first president, General Louis Botha.
Sightseeing at the BuildingsAlthough the public is not allowed to enter the buildings, unless it is a pre-arranged tour, the outside of the building alone, and its gardens, give a spectacular and memorable experience to its many visitors. The place is full with history, where its gardens are filled with memorials such as the South African police memorial and different statues of important political figures, like the nine meters high bronze statue of the late Nelson Mandela. Whether you want to have a quick glimpse of the buildings and spend time there, it’s the adequate place to organize a picnic with friends or your family. Art crafts from all over Africa are normally sold during the day in the parking area.
Lastly, when visited at night time, the parking area, gives a magical view of the city to visitors.
Hotels and RestaurantsIf you visit Pretoria and want to access touristic spots like the Union Buildings without the hassle of looking for transport to get there, you can find excellent 3 to 4 stars hotels near the site. The service is really good, with spacious and furnished rooms and good internet connection. Meals are available throughout the day, except at lunch time, when you have to request your meal. Prices are also affordable, starting from $ 60 USD to $ 90 USD a night per person for a single bed room. The three nearest hotels to the site are the Morning Star Hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and the Protea Hotel Capital.
How to get thereThere are no entry fees to gain access to the Union Buildings. You can access it on foot if you are staying nearby or arrange for transport with the Gautrain buses company. A valid gold card is required to board a Gautrain bus, which can be purchased at any Gautrain stations and selected retail outlets. The card must have a value of at least $ 4.00 USD in it, when you board the bus. For a more private experience you can opt for Ulysses private day tours' minibuses that escort tourist outside of the site, and back to their hotels after the visit is over.
SafetyThe park is normally safe, with minimal reports of aggression upon tourists. However, there are more and more beggars surrounding the site, visitors must be cautious at all times even if the South African Police patrols the area, constantly. Stay in groups, and don’t isolate yourself in remote areas of the gardens. It’s always safer to be where there's an affluence of people.
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Author: Comasco. Last updated: Dec 14, 2014