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*All distances listed are as the crow flies, and not actual travel distances.
The Union Buildings in Pretoria is the official seat of South Africa’s government and president in office, was recently declared a national heritage site and at one stage was ranked the 6th most recognisable building in the world.
It was at the turn of the 20th century that authorities took a decision to build a significant structure to house the new Union of South Africa government following partial independence from the British crown. The ambitious project was undertaken by Herbert Baker, a renowned English architect residing in the Cape. An old disused quarry on Meintjieskop was the chosen site, which is the highest point in Pretoria and the building was constructed from local sandstone, a hard-wearing material capable of blending beautifully into its surroundings. The main building is shaped in an arc with two wings 285m in total length. Sprawling formal gardens were added, along with an open air amphitheatre with a seating capacity of 9000 people.
The Union Buildings grounds has seen its share of demonstrations and peaceful rallies, however, it’s mostly the scene of family picnics and fun activities. It’s also on the annual Red Bull X-Fighters world tour calendar!
The formal terraced gardens contain ornamental pools, statues of past presidents and plentiful trees, and from here there are unobstructed views of Pretoria (a law prohibits tall buildings from being constructed between the Union Buildings and the city).
Presidents have been inaugurated at the Union Buildings since 1994, the most famous of whom is Nelson Mandela. A 9m bronze statue of Mandela was erected and placed in the grounds following his death and was purposely built at a great height to leave an impression of the man’s ‘towering vision and stature.’
The Union Buildings is Herbert Baker’s finest work and the architecture has endured, however, there was one major flaw: it was built without women’s toilets. This problem was corrected approximately a decade later.