The name of the town is derived from the combination of the names of two important Voortrekker leaders, Pieter Retief and Gerrit Maritz. Pietermaritzburg was proclaimed the capital of the Voortrekker Republic of Natalia in 1838. When the republic ceased to exist after the British occupation in 1842, the town became the capital of the new Colony of Natal. After South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, the name of the province was changed from Natal to KwaZulu-Natal and Pietermaritzburg became a joint capital, the other being Ulundi in Zululand proper.
The layout of Pietermaritzburg was a milestone in South African town planning, as this was the first town to use the grid street plan as a basis. Pietermaritzburg is also known as “Place of the Elephant” in Zulu culture. It has several lovely examples of old buildings.
Adventure And Sport
Comrades Marathon: One of the world’s great ultra-distance events is run in June each year between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. The 88-km race was first held in 1921 in memory of the men who died in the First World War.
Green Belt Trails: The well-marked Green Belt trails lead visitors to places in the vicinity of Pietermaritzburg that allow them to appreciate the emerald beauty of this subtropical region.
Camps Drift Resort: Camps Drift resort on the Umsindusi River often hosts rowing events.
Scottsville Racecourse: Visit the Scottsville racecourse, but do not bet all your holiday funds on a sure thing!
Art And Crafts
Alexandra Park Craft Market: The craft market at Alexandra Park offers a wide selection of handcrafted goods, clothes, leather and woodwork for sale.
Tatham Art Gallery: The Tatham Art Gallery exhibits a large variety of art, from the works of black and white South Africans, to traditional Zulu art and crafts.
Ecabazini Zulu Cultural Homestead: The Ecabazini Zulu Cultural Homestead is run by Cedric Hood, a white man who has adopted the traditional Zulu way of life. The village offers accommodation in the form of traditional beehive huts and food is prepared over open fires. True to its authenticity, there is no electricity. Tours are conducted into the nearby farmland to show how traditional crops are grown.
Fauna And Flora
Bisley Nature Reserve: Bisley Nature Reserve has several trails that lead through the savannah bush. The reserve is inhabited by several different kinds of birds and game.
Doreen Clark Nature Reserve: The Doreen Clark Nature Reserve has several hiking trails and picnicking facilities in the evergreen forest.
National Botanic Gardens: The Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg were established in 1870 and house a large collection of indigenous plants.
Queen Elizabeth Park: Queen Elizabeth Park is the headquarters of the Natal Parks Board and lies 8 km from the city. The park is home to many indigenous species of plants, birds and game.
Wylie Park: This estate was presented to the city of Pietermaritzburg by Mr GH Wylie, together with a legacy for its development and upkeep. It was opened in 1958. The azalea, the flower featured on the town’s emblem, grows profusely in Wylie Park, together with other species such as proteas.
History And Architecture
Alexandra Park: The 65 ha Alexandra Park was named for Queen Alexandra when it was laid out in 1883. It features a Victorian bandstand, rolling lawns and interesting rock gardens.
City Hall: The City Hall is the largest all-brick building in the Southern Hemisphere and also holds the title for the largest pipe organ. It was originally built in 1893 and rebuilt in 1901 after most of it had been destroyed by fire.
Colonial Building: The Colonial Building in Church Street is a prime example of late nineteenth-century architecture.
Comrades Marathon House: Comrades Marathon House houses the archives of South Africa’s most famous ultra-marathon, an 88-km race run annually between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.
Fort Napier: Fort Napier, overlooking the town, was once home to the British garrison. Today, it houses military paraphernalia.
Gandhi Monument: The Gandhi Monument is a tribute to Mohandas (“Mahatma”) Ghandi and his campaign of passive resistance. Gandhi practised as a lawyer in South Africa for about 20 years before returning to India.
Islamia Mosque: The Islamia Mosque is the largest mosque in the city.
Macrorie House: Macrorie House features late nineteenth-century architecture. It was once the home of William Macrorie, an Anglican bishop, who lived there for over 20 years in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
Natal Museum: Visitors find the reconstruction of a Victorian Street scene at the Natal Museum particularly interesting. Marine-fish replicas and an ethnological gallery are also on display. The museum also houses some San rock art exhibits, including the Bamboo Mountain panel and the Ebusingata stone. The Bamboo Mountain panel is 2,5-m long and depicts a group of San men returning to camp after a hunting expedition. The Ebusingata stone depicts an animal with the head of an elephant and arms and legs that end in hooves.
Old Government House: Until the Union of South Africa was established in 1910, the Governors of Natal had their residence in Old Government House. Among the famous people who visited here were Winston Churchill and the Empress Eugenie of France, mother of the Prince Imperial of France, Louis Napoleon, who was killed in 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War.
Parliament Buildings: The foundation stone of the building was laid on 21 June 1887, marking Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The Parliament Buildings, complete with soaring columns and copper domes, contain numerous artefacts from the province’s colonial past.
Presbyterian Church: The Presbyterian Church, dating back to 1852, is reputed to be the oldest British-built church in the country.
Publicity House: Publicity House houses the Publicity Association, the African Arts and Crafts Centre and a souvenir shop. It also serves as an intercity coach stop.
Standard Bank Building: The stained-glass windows of the Standard Bank building depict the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere. The building was designed by an Irishman, Philip Dudgeon, and built in 1882.
St Peter’s Church: St Peter’s Church houses some interesting church artefacts. The remains of the well-known, controversial Bishop Colenso lie in front of the altar
Victorian Railway Station Building: This Victorian Railway Station building was built in 1892. Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi was ejected from a train here in 1893 because of the colour of his skin. This incident started his lifelong struggle against injustice.
Voortrekker House: Voortrekker House is the oldest building in the city and was completed in 1846.
Voortrekker Museum: The Voortrekker Museum houses, amongst other things, Welverdient, the thatch-roof cottage of Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius. The museum is situated in the original Church of the Vow, which was built after the Battle of Blood River, during which some 3 000 Zulu warriors died and no Boer lives were lost. Before the battle, the Boers made a vow to God that if He protected them, they would build a church and honour that day as a religious holiday.
War Monuments: A number of war monuments commemorate those who were killed in the various wars and skirmishes since the city’s formation.
World’s View: World’s View, on a hill west of the city, offers a charming view of the city. Nearby Voortrekker tracts date back to 1838.