Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa
The Midlands Region
The Natal Midlands: Pietermaritzburg History
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Before defeating the Zulus at the battle of Blood River, the Voortrekkers made a vow that should they be victorious, they would erect a church in honour of the triumph.
After defeating Dingane in 1838, they chose a fertile site on the banks of the Umsinduzi river, duly erected the Church of the Vow in 1842 and named their new city (originally called Bushmansrand) after their leader murdered by Dingane - Pieter Mauritz Retief - and another of their leaders, Gerrit Maritz.
This pretty city is surrounded by hills on all sides and was laid out with a central market square and streets wide enough to accommodate the turning of 32-oxen wagons.
For the first year, the town operated more as a laager than a town and only after this period were any buildings constructed. A centrally situated 'raadzaal' (meeting house) was built and behind it a large market square on which the many ox wagons that would either pass through or visit the city selling produce, ivory and skins could outspan.
In 1854 the city developed the essentially British colonial character it still possesses and became the Provincial Capital of Natal, complete with Legislative buildings and Supreme Court. Fortunately these and many other buildings (39 altogether) have been carefully preserved and one can still come across mounting blocks and hitching rails.
Since those days, the city has expanded into the agricultural and industrial centre of the Midlands and is home to almost 300,000 people.
It is however an important icon in the current history of the country with links to Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Alan Paton.
At an altitude of more than 2000 ft, it escapes the worst of the coastal humidity and for much of the year enjoys an idyllic climate.
The rich soil encourages luxuriant growth of both temperate and tropical plants and the brilliant display of azaleas in September is such that there is an annual Azalea Festival and the azalea has been adopted as the emblem of the city.
Jacaranda trees provide shade along many of the city's streets and their lilac blooms in November are an unforgettable site and a sign to students that it is time to start preparing for the inevitable exams!