Saturday, November 10, 2007

The city of Pietermaritzburg

Pietermaritzburg is the administrative centre of the KwaZulu-Natal province, bordering Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. Its eastern coastline is embraced by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and the province has a wide variety of climate zones, plants, and animals. Pietermaritzburg is a fast growing urban area just one hour away from Durban, and is estimated to have around 500000 inhabitants.

We came to Pietermaritzburg as Jan, our guide, has studied here and have friends we wanted to visit. Phumzile is living and working here, and we were to get to know her and her family during our stay in Pietermaritzburg.

The city has a remarkable British feel to it, with a large number of Victorian buildings. Its Victorian past is particularly evident along Church Street, partly a pedestrian area with shops, and offices. Here you find the Court Building with the Empires Coat of Arms over the entrance.

Another impressive building is the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. It was built in 1893, and destroyed by fire two years later, then rebuilt in 1901. It is said to be the largest red brick building in the southern hemisphere, incredible, as Pietermaritzburg is not one of the largest cities south of the equator.

It is located on the corner of Church Street and it high belfry towers over the city. The building has undergone restoration and looks today as magnificent as it was when it was built a century ago.

This in contrast to many of the other Victorian buildings along Church street that were clearly in decay. I sincerely hope that the city administration manage to save the remains of this city's past. I do, however, see the mixed feelings the black population of South Africa may have to these monuments. They will always be reminding them of the painful times of oppression by rulers not native to their country.

Still taking an hour walking around the Pietermaritzburg city center is certainly worthwhile. It is so much to see, as here you find many small entrepreneurs selling all kind of stuff under the old arches.

You could get every thinkable object in one of the small shops along Church street. Electrical appliances, furniture, jewelry, t-shirts and souvenirs. I got a bite in a fast-food restaurant that certainly satisfied me until I could enjoy a late night dinner.

But remember security, as there are so much poverty in South Africa I would certainly be hesitant to enter the small narrow streets that criss crossed the blocks. I may however be over anxious, but better safe than sorry is my motto unless I know that I may relax.

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