5 Union Building facts you might not have known about
Pretoria’s pride, the Union Building, was constructed between 1910 and 1913 and sits atop Meintjieskop at the northern end of Arcadia. This building is a popular tourist destination but locals especially like to take advantage of sunny days to picnic or exercise on the grounds. There are arts and crafts for sale in the area and sometimes you’ll spot a lonely artist sketching the building.
The Union Building is South Africa’s most famous landmark, but here follows five facts you might not have known about it. Better still, why don’t you take a bus to Pretoria and see the building in all its glory yourself.
- The architect was British:
Sir Herbert Baker designed the Union building to resemble the Acropolis City in Greece, identifiable by the light sandstone colour and statues of Gods. He managed to unite two divided nations by combining Cape Dutch and Edwardian elements in the design.
The building is a U shape with the east and west wings representing the Afrikaans and English languages and the centre representing the union between the two cultures. When the clocks chime, you’ll notice they sound exactly like the Big Ben’s clock in London.
- The whole building is pretty much built in threes:
There are three sections to the building, all 95 meters long. The amphitheatre is located in the middle with offices to the left and right of it. Each office block has a basement with three stories above ground.
The interior also has a Cape Dutch style with dark heavy doors and furniture and white plaster walls. Have you spotted the central curved building behind the porch? This building houses the committee and conference rooms and in the basement is the kitchen, lounges and dining rooms.
- There are gods sitting atop the building:
Arcadia is the closest suburb to the Union Buildings and the name means “Playground of the Gods”. The two matching statues atop the domed towers are gods, keeping in theme with Baker’s Greek vision. The one statue is Atlas, holding up the world and was sculpted by Abraham Broadbent and the other is Mercury, a Roman messenger and God of trade, sculpted by George Ness.
- The Union Building is the tallest building for a reason:
The building is famous for its beautiful garden and views so it makes sense they don’t want any other building obstructing the view or drawing attention away from the Union Buildings. A law in Pretoria puts a limit on the height of any building between the Voortrekker Monument and Union Buildings so that the view between them can remain unobstructed.
- There is a whispering statue:
One of the key events in our history took place on 9 August 1956 when 20 000 women marched to the doors of the Union Buildings chanting, “Wathint’ Abafazi, wathint’ imbokodo!” which translates to “strike the women, strike the rock”.
Wilma Cruise and Marcus Holmes designed the memorial and decided to use an “imbokodo”, a grinding stone used by women to grind maize, as the focal point. It represents nurture and rests on bronze plates, which represents fire and earth. When you approach the imbokodo, you’ll trigger infrared beams, which activates, “whispered voices” echoing in all 11 official languages.
This is the perfect place to teach your children about South Africa’s history or even learn new things you might not have known. Locate your nearest Citiliner ticket office, buy your bus ticket and let us take you on a trip to Pretoria.