To see the top buildings in Pietermaritzburg is an easy mini saunter, as they are so close to each other in the city centre, which is best explored on foot.
The Pietermaritzburg City Hall is the largest red brick building in the southern hemisphere and takes its architectural style from the Flemish Resistance, with a variety of gables and turrets along the parapet. The building is a national monument and is a beautiful piece of Victorian architecture.
An imposing 47m bell tower on the Church Street/Commercial Road corner has some of the most elaborate detailing to be seen in the city. The grand entrances from Commercial Road and Church Street have heavily moulded brick and plaster. This is one of the best known period buildings in the Republic and, with its sisters, Publicity House and the old Supreme Court/ Old Colonial Building, form a core in the heart of the city unequalled in the country.
Designed by the architect, R. Street-Wilson it opened in 1901 replacing the original built on the site of the Volksraadsaal of the Voortrekkers site but destroyed by fire.
It has magnificent stained glass displays in ceilings and windows and a massive pipe organ, which is also the largest south of the equator and a superb musical piece. Try to get tickets for the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra when they play here.
Just outside the City Hall is a 5.5kg naval gun known as the One O’Clock Gun, as it used to fire every day except Sundays, when the post arrived from Durban. The history of this gun is fascinating. It was on the ship HMS Fawn in the 1840s. The ship captured slave ships and releasing their human cargo, ultimately helping to end the slave trade.
In 1847 the HMS Fawn was sent to Durban to reinforce Port Natal. The ship ran aground some twenty months later when leaving harbour, and was then scrapped. The gun was transferred to Durban’s Point where it stood for some time until it was moved to Pietermaritzburg.
The gun was once again conscripted during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War, and was placed in its current location in 1901, where it has stood for over a century.
Old Colonial Building with Ghandi Statue in front
The building boasts beautiful architecture and a bronze statue of activist Mahatma Gandhi outside commemorates an incident of 1893. This event changed the mild mannered man into the well-known, and often revered, peaceful protester.
On the night of 7 June 1893, Gandhi stepped into a first class European compartment at Pietermaritzburg train station, and was asked to move despite his first class ticket, and go instead to the third class compartment, purely due to his skin colour. Politely refusing, Gandhi was removed from the train, and he later said that this incident directly influenced many of his principles from that day forward.
Gandhi began to peacefully fight against racial abuse towards Indians in South Africa. After Gandhi established the roots of Satyagraha (‘passive resistance’), he left for India to pursue the path of freedom, and remove India from grip of the British Empire.
Both The KZN Museum and the Tatham Gallery are explored here as well, but each is listed separately.
The area is safe to explore but you may well see litter on the streets as this municipality is a failed one and currently under administration. Do not let this put you off, as the buildings are beautiful despite neglect.