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The Voortrekker Monument


If it wasn’t for the Voortrekkers, most of South Africa’s towns and cities, including Pretoria, would not exist. The Voortrekker Monument Pretoria stands as a memorial to these brave Voortrekkers.

Voortrekker Monument Virtual Tour

The Voortrekkers, or pioneers, were mainly Dutch settlers who were dissatisfied under the British rule of the Cape Colony. From 1835 many of them started a journey inland by ox-wagon which is now known as the Great Trek. The Voortrekker Monument outside Pretoria stands as a memorial to these brave pioneers.

The Voortrekker Monument is a colossal granite structure, some 40 metres tall, which dominates a hill just South of Pretoria. The monument was designed by Gerard Moerdijk, and is rich in symbolism. From the time you enter the wrought iron gates which resemble assegais (traditional African spear) until you arrive in the Hall of Heroes, you come across an outer wall carved with 64 ox-wagons, a statue of a woman with her children, surrounded by 4 wildebeest and four large statues guarding each corner of the building. All of these decorative features serve as reminders of the life and struggles the Voortrekkers went through.

 The Voortrekker Monument is located just south of Pretoria in South Africa. This massive granite structure is prominently located on a hilltop, and was raised to commemorate the Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854.

On 8 July 2011 the Voortrekker Monument, designed by the architect Gerard Moerdijk, was declared a National Heritage Site by the South African Heritage Resource Agency.

Wounded voortrekker at Vegkop, detail of the historical friezeThe idea to build a monument in honour of the Voortrekkers was first discussed on 16 December 1888, when President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic attended the Day of the Covenant celebrations at Blood River in Natal.

However, the movement to actually build such a monument only started in 1931 when the Sentrale Volksmonumentekomitee (SVK) (Central People's Monuments Committee) was formed to bring this idea to fruition.
Construction started on 13 July 1937 with a sod turning ceremony performed by chairman of the SVK, Advocate Ernest George Jansen, on what later became known as Monument Hill.

On 16 December 1938 the cornerstone was laid by three descendants of some of the Voortrekker leaders: Mrs. J.C. Muller (granddaughter of Andries Pretorius), Mrs. K.F. Ackerman (great-granddaughter of Hendrik Potgieter) and Mrs. J.C. Preller (great-granddaughter of Piet Retief).

The Monument was inaugurated on 16 December 1949 by the then-prime minister D. F. Malan. The total construction cost of the Monument was about £ 360,000, most of which was contributed by the South African government.A large amphitheatre, which seats approximately 20,000 people, was erected to the north-east of the Monument in 1949.

Main features

Physically, the Voortrekker Monument is 40 metres high, with a base of 40 metres by 40 metres.The building shares architectural resemblance with European monuments such the Dôme des Invalids in France and the Völkerschlachtdenkmal in Germany but also contain African influences. The two main points of interest inside the building are the Historical Frieze and the Cenotaph.

Historical Frieze

The main entrance of the building leads into the domed Hall of Heroes. This massive space, flanked by four huge arched windows made from yellow Belgian glass, contains the unique marble Historical Frieze which is an intrinsic part of the design of the monument. It is the biggest marble frieze in the world.

The frieze consists of 27 bas-relief panels depicting the history of the Great Trek, but incorporating references to every day life, work methods and religious beliefs of the Voortrekkers. The set of panels illustrate key historical scenes starting from the first voortrekkers of 1835, up to the signing of the Sand River Convention in 1852. In the centre of the floor of the Hall of Heroes is a large circular opening through which the Cenotaph in the Cenotaph Hall can be viewed.


The Cenotaph, situated in the centre of the Cenotaph Hall, is the central focus of the monument. In addition to being viewable from the Hall of Heroes it can also be seen from the dome at the top of the building, from where much of the interior of the monument can be viewed.

Through an opening in this dome a ray of sunlight shines at twelve o'clock on 16 December annually, falling onto the centre of the Cenotaph, striking the words 'Ons vir Jou, Suid-Afrika' (Afrikaans for 'We for Thee, South Africa').

The ray of light is said to symbolise God's blessing on the lives and endeavours of the Voortrekkers. 16 December 1838 was the date of the Battle of Blood River, commemorated in South Africa before 1994 as the Day of the Vow.

The Cenotaph Hall is decorated with the flags of the different Voortrekker Republics and contains wall tapestries depicting the Voortrekkers as well as several display cases with artefacts from the Great Trek. Against the northern wall of the hall is a nave with a lantern in which a flame has been kept burning ever since 1938. It was in that year that the Symbolic Ox Wagon Trek, which started in Cape Town and ended at Monument Hill where the Monument's foundation stone was laid, took place.

The wagon laager wall features 64 wagons

Other features

Visitors to the monument enter through a black wrought iron gate with an assegai (spear) motif.

After passing through the gate one finds oneself inside a big laager consisting of 64 ox-wagons made out of decorative granite. The same number of wagons were used at the Battle of Blood River to form the laager.

At the foot of the Monument stands Anton van Wouw's bronze sculpture of a Voortrekker woman and her two children, paying homage to the strength and courage of the Voortrekker women.

On both sides of this sculpture black wildebeest are chiselled into the walls of the Monument.

The wildebeest symbolically depicts the dangers of Africa and their symbolic flight implies that the woman, carrier of Western civilisation, is triumphant.

On each outside corner of the Monument there is a statue, respectively representing Piet Retief, Andries Pretorius, Hendrik Potgieter and an "unknown" leader (representative of all the other Voortrekker leaders). Each statue weighs approximately 6 tons.

At the eastern corner of the monument, on the same level as its entrance, is the foundation stone.

Under the foundation stone is buried: A copy of the Trekker Vow on 16 December 1838. A copy of the anthem "Die Stem". A copy of the land deal between the Trekkers under Piet Retief and the Zulus under king Dingaan.

According to Dr Alta Steenkamp, the masonic subtext of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal is reflected in the Voortrekker Monument because the architect, Gerard Moerdijk, had used the geometric order and spatial proportions of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal.  This Germanisation of the Voortrekker Monument occurred, after Moerdijk's initial design had caused a public outcry in the South African press for its resemblance to an Egyptian temple.

In Moerdijk's initial design, the monument consisted of a causeway linking two Egyptian obelisks.Finalising his design of the Voortrekker Monument, Moerdijk visited Egypt in 1936, including the Karnak Temple Complex in Thebes In Thebes, the pharaoh Akhenaten, Nefertiti's husband, had erected three sun sanctuaries, including the Hwt-benben ('mansion of the Benben').

The most prominent aspect of Moerdijk's monument is the sun illumination of the encrypted cenotaph or Benben stone.In the years preceding WWII, several Afrikaner nationalists travelled to Germany for academic studies, as well as political and cultural inspiration. Moerdijk visited Germany in 1928 to view the bust of Nefertiti on display in Berlin.

By 1934 Chancellor Hitler had decided that Germany would not return the bust of Nefertiti to Egypt, and he announced his intention to use Nefertiti's bust as the central show piece of the Third Reich, in a revitalised capital to be renamed Germania.Likewise Moerdijk's monument with corresponding sun symbolism overlooking the capital of Pretoria, became a beacon of the Republic of South-Africa.

Round floor opening
Looking from the sky dome downwards, a chevron pattern on the floor of the Hall of Heroes, radiates outwards like 32 sun rays. In Moerdijk's architecture, the natural sun forms the 33rd ray through the floor opening.Moerdijk said the chevron pattern on the floor depicts water, as does the double chevron hieroglyph from the civilization of ancient Egypt.Moerdijk stated that all roads on the terrain of building art, lead back to ancient Egypt.

Based on Moerdijk's reference to the watery floor of the Hall of Heroes, as well as his statements about ancient Egypt, the floor opening may be identified with the watery abyss, as in the creation theology of ancient African civilization. Rising out of this watery abyss, was the primeval mound, the Benben stone, to symbolize a new creation.

Religious sun ray

Gerard Moerdijk was the chief architect of 80 Protestant churches in South Africa. Moerdijk adhered to Reformed church tradition and thus his Renaissance trademark, the Greek-cross floorplan, always focused on the pulpit and preacher. In Protestant theology, the word of God is central. Moerdijk created a similar central focus in the Voortrekker Monument, but in vertical instead of horisontal plane, and in African instead of European style.

The monument's huge upper dome features Egyptian backlighting to simulate the sky, the heavenly abode of God. Through the dome a sun ray penetrates downwards, highligting words on 16 December at noon.

The sky oriented words: "WE FOR THEE SOUTH-AFRICA", are Moerdijk's focus point. These words are taken from an anthem, Die Stem: "We will live, we will die, we for thee South-Africa". The same anthem ends: "It will be well, God reigns.

Thus the sun ray simulates a connection between the words on the Cenotaph and the heavenly abode above, a communication between God and man.

The actual sun ray itself forms a 33rd sun ray shining onto the stone in the midst of floor opening.

Heavenly vow

In Moerdijk's biblical theology, God communicates in two ways: through scripture and nature. Moerdijk merges both methods, by using the sun in his simulation.View from the garden perimeter

The Vow of the Trekkers was commemorated on 16 December as the Day of the Vow. On 16 December, the appearance of an illuminating sun disc on the wording of the Cenotaph stone, transform their meaning as per the Philosophers Stone of the alchemists.

Instead of man below making an earthly vow, the sun shifts the focus upwards to the trinitarian god of the Trekkers, as it is God who communicates through Moerdijk's sun architecture, making Himself a heavenly vow with the words: WE - as in GOD - FOR THEE SOUTH-AFRICA.

Thus God in the trinitarian tradition of the Trekkers, speaks a vow within the sun disc illuminating the words on the Cenotaph.

The Trekker belief that God was for South Africa, originates from the 9-16 December 1838 vow of Trekker leader Andries Pretorius at Danskraal, who at around the same time made military and political alliances with Christian Zulus like prince Mpande.

Egyptian origin

Moerdijk was an outspoken supporter of ancient Egyptian architecture.Moerdijk referred to Africa's greatness as imparted by ancient Egyptian constructions at the inauguration of the Voortrekker Monument.

Before his Voortrekker Monument proposal was accepted, Moerdijk and Anton van Wouw had been working in alliance for many years on their "dream castle" project: a modern African-Egytian Voortrekker Temple in South-Africa.

Van Wouw and Frans Soff had earlier employed the Egyptian obelisk, a petrified ray of the African Aten, as central motif for the National Women's Monument in Bloemfontein, South Africa, itself likewise inaugurated on the Day of the Vow, 16 December 1913.

Whilst finalising the design of the Voortrekker Monument in 1936, Moerdijk went on a research trip to Egypt. There he visited the Karnak Temple Complex at Thebes, where an African Renaissance had flourished under Pharaoh Akhenaten, Nefertiti's husband.

The open air temples of Akhenaten to the Aten incorporated the Heliopolitan tradition of employing sun rays in architecture, as well as realistic wall reliefs or friezes.Moerdijk also visited the Cairo Museum, where a copy of the Great Hymn to the Aten is on display, some verses of which remind of Psalm 104.Moerdijk's wife Sylva related that he was intimately acqainted with ancient Egyptian architecture, and was strongly influenced architecturally by his visit to Egypt.

Architectural purpose

Looking downwards from the dome

The architect, Gerard Moerdijk, stated that the purpose of a building had to be clearly visible. The aspect of the sun at mid-noon in Africa, was during Nefertiti's time known as Aten. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, Aten was written as a sun dot enclosed by a circle.

The Aten-hieroglyph is depicted in the Voortrekker Monument when the sun shines through an aperture in the top dome.Likewise, looking downwards from the top dome walkway, the round floor opening is seen to encircle the sun disc illumination.Moerdijk's message as implied by the wall frieze: by exodus out of the British Cape Colony, God created a new civilization inland.

In order to give thanks to this new creation of civilization, Moerdijk, recalling Abraham of old, outwardly designed the Voortrekker Monument as an altar.


Voortrekker Monument Cenotaph in Tshwane


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