I’ve lived in Pretoria (aka “Jacaranda City”, aka “Snor City”, aka “The 012”, aka “P-town”) since 1996. I was away for about a year (from March 1998 to January 1999) but I’ve been a resident of this fine city for over 20 years.
It comes without saying that I really love this city and its people. 8 years ago I even wrote an article featuring 10 Facts about Pretoria, but I think it’s time for an update – the city has changed A LOT since then.
Here are 20 things you didn’t know about Pretoria:
“Church” street is a very long street…
Pretoria’s main street, Church Street (which sections have been renamed to Stanza Bopape, Helen Joseph, WF Nkomo and Elias Motswaledi Streets) is the longest urban street in South Africa and one of the longest straight streets in the world.
According to this website, there are 101 embassies / consulates in Pretoria. The embassies for the People’s Republic of China and the USA take up a whole blocks in Arcadia and are quite a sight. (Thanks for the heads up Joseph)
Winston Churchill was imprisoned at the Staats Model School in Pretoria during the Anglo Boer War period (1899-1902) but escaped from captivity and fled to Mozambique. He went on to become the British Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955.
Pretoria has one of the best beer restaurants in the country, Capital Craft. It has the biggest beer variety for a restaurant in Africa. They have branches in Menlo Park and Centurion and there are more than 200 different beers from all over the world on their menus and if you’re hungry, their food is really good too. The owners have also been hosting an annual craft beer festival since 2013. Last year’s event attracted close to 8,000 punters.
The duplex flats next to Picasso’s pub in Pierneef Street is where the world famous artist Pierneef’s house stood. The city council didn’t know it was his house and gave permission for the house to be demolished. The street and the primary school down the road are named after him. Pierneef left a bunch of paintings in his will to the school. To this day whenever the school needs money they auction off a painting.
“Pretoriusdorp”, “Pretorium”, “Pretoriusstad” were all considered as names by Marthinus Pretorius (the founder of the city, whose father Andries Pretorius). MW Pretorius bought two farms to start a new town. The first church congregation was named Pretoria Philadeplhia (Pretoria Friendship) in honor of Pretorius’ father. Later the town took on the shortened name of Pretoria. (Thanks for correcting me Andrew Buitendach).
Cafe Riche (a restaurant on Church Square) has a glass pane that you walk over to get into the restaurant. This is because it used to be a gentleman’s club. The club was underground so the glass was there so the gentlemen could look up under the ladies skirts (who were walking into the club). True story.
Pretoria is also known as the “Jacaranda City” because of the over 50,000 Jacaranda trees that lines her streets and carpet the city in purple for three weeks in October. The first Jacaranda trees were imported from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1888 by a Pretoria resident.
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually less Jacaranda trees in Pretoria than in Johannesburg (the world’s biggest man-made forest with over 10 million trees).
Moreleta Park is named after Aletta Erasmus (daughter of Daniel Elardus Erasmus) from the farm Doornkloof (modern day Waterkloof / Erasmusrand / Elarduspark / Moreleta Park). Aletta washed her clothers in the river in the morning and then people greeted her in the morning from across the stream with “More Aletta” (“Morning Aletta”). A part of the Erasmus farm was sold to Alois Nellmapius. He renamed it to Irene Estate (after his daughter Irene Nellmapius). She got her name from the Greek goddess of peace, Eirene.
Tom Jenkins drive has an interesting history…
The 1.88 km long Tom Jenkins Drive road (which connects Rietondale with Brenturion / Arcadia – the area close to the Union Buildings) was built by Italian Prisoners of War during the Second World War. It’s named after a former mayor of Pretoria. Jenkins also went on to become the mayor of Margate (in Kwazulu Natal).
The Rivonia Trial (where former SA president Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders were sentenced to life-long imprisonment) took place in the Palace of Justice (on Pretoria’s Church Square). This is also where Madiba made his “I’m prepared to die” speech on the 20th of April 1964.
Fort Schanskop (one of four forts in the Pretoria area) was completed in 1897 and is located in the Voortrekker Monument Nature Reserve on the highest hill in the Pretoria area. The garrison was initially armed with one officer and 30 men but it was reduced to 17 men (by 1899) and eventually to 1 person without guns (by June 1900).
No shots were fired at this location during the Anglo Boer War. Nowadays Fort Schanskop gets used for Park Acoustics (a monthly live music event in the capital city featuring great SA artists).
Paul Kruger House was built in 1884 by architect Tom Claridge and builder Charles Clark. He was the president of the ZAR (later known as Transvaal) from 1883 to 1900. Milk was used instead of water for mixing the cement from which the house was constructed, as the cement available was of poor quality.
It was one of the first houses to be lit by electricity in Pretoria. The two stone lions on the verandah were presented to President Paul Kruger as a birthday gift on 10 October 1896 by Barney Barnato (the mining magnate).
Melrose House (located across the road from Burgers Park) was built in 1886 by Pretoria businessman George Jesse Heys. It was named after the famous Melrose Abbey in Scotland. Lord Roberts requisitioned it as the headquarters for the British forces after Pretoria was invaded by them in June 1900.
For over 18 months instructions for the British forces in the field were issued from here. The use of the house as a military headquarters ended when the Treaty of Vereeniging (which ended the war) which was signed at Melrose House on the 31st of May 1902.
The Union Buildings (which were designed by Sir Herbert Baker) was constructed between 1909 and 1913. It took approximately 1265 artisans, workmen and labourers to construct, using 14 million bricks for the interior office walls, half a million cubic feet of freestone, 74,000 cubic yards of concrete, 40,000 bags of cement and 20,000 cubic feet of granite.
At the time of completion it was the largest building in the country and possibly the largest building work undertaken in the Southern Hemisphere at that time. The 9m tall statue of Nelson Mandela (which was errected in December 2013) cost R8 million and weighs 3.5 tons.
Aandklas Hatfield opened up its doors in 2006. This cottage turned bar was built in 1943 for the use of Mr F. Jacobz. It was a residential house until 1996. It was converted by the owner to a commune for the use of university students.
Eventually this was converted into a venue called Up The Creek in 2002 and it became Aandklas in 2006. I actually bumped into one of the original commune occupants a few years ago who told us that “it was fun drinking in his commune again”.
Since Hatfield Square was demolished in 2015, it’s one of only 4 bars that remain in the area. In Hatfield’s heyday there used to be more than 15 in the area.
The Pretoria National Botanical Gardens was established in June 1946. The University of Pretoria granted approval to the Department of Agriculture for the development of a botanical garden on a piece of land that was previously part of the University’s Experimental Farm.
The Department of Agriculture acquired properties on the Northern ridge and the garden was officially opened in October 1958. One could only visit these gardens if you made special arrangements, but in 1984 that changed when the gardens were opened its gates to the general public.
A part of Church Square was used as a location for the 1996 film, The Ghost and The Darkness (which starred Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas). The steam train that was used in the film was borrowed from the Pretoria Railroad Museum.
The famous business magnate, investor, engineer and inventor Elon Musk was born in Pretoria in 1971. He attended Waterkloof House Preparatory School and eventually graduated at Pretoria Boys High School before he moved to Canada.
The area was first used as a sports field in 1906. In 1914 the fields got initiated as Eastern Sportsgrounds. In 1923 the first concrete structure was erected with seating for 2000 spectators. Changing rooms and toilets were added in 1928. Mr Loftus Versfeld died and the stadium was renamed to Loftus Versfeld in 1932.
In 1948 improvements were made to the stadium. Between 1972 and 1984 various pavilions were added and in 1989 the main stand pavilion was renovated to what it resembles today. The Eastern pavilion was renovated in 1995. It was renovated again for the FIFA World Cup in 2008.
Well, there you have it, Things You Didn’t Know About Pretoria. This article will always be a work in progress, so if you have any facts about Pretoria that you want to share, e-mail me via firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re also welcome to leave a comment below.
Watch this space for regular updates in the Facts category on Running Wolf’s Rant.