Palace of Justice, Church Square, Pretoria City Centre, Tshwane

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Date of origin
Previous names
Pretoria City Centre
Corner of Madiba (formerly Vermeulen) and Palace Streets
Magisterial district
City of Tshwane
South Africa
GPS coordinates
25o44'44.62" S, 28o11'15.52" E
Planning authority name
City of Tshwane
Sytze Wopkes Wierda
Project architect/Designer
Sytze Wopkes Wierda
Commissioning owner
Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek
Current owner
South African Government
Current occupant
North Gauteng and South Gauteng High Courts
Previous uses
Military hospital; Supreme Court of the Transvaal
Current use
North Gauteng and South Gauteng High Courts
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[edit] Significance

Wierda, the architect, described the style of the Palace of Justice as Modern Monumental, the style of the Italian Renaissance. During the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 the uncompleted building was used as a military hospital for British troops. It was only after the war that work was completed and the building became the home of the Supreme Court of the Transvaal.

[edit] Current known heritage status

The building is subject to Section 34 of the National Heritage Resources Act (No. 25 of 1999) because it is older than 60 years, and is also protected by the Church Square, Pretoria, Development Act (Act 53 of 1972).

[edit] Known interested and affected parties

[edit] History

The Palace of Justice occupies the plot where Commandant-General M.W. Pretorius had his first dwelling. This dwelling later served as a school, as magistrates’ offices, as a parsonage and as government offices. But the government needed a larger building and in about 1895 the old building was demolished, together with the government school building to the west of it. It was decided to erect a supreme court on the premises.
In January 1894 the application for the construction of a Supreme Court was approved. The building was designed by Sytze Wierda, Head of the Department of Public Works.

In November 1895, the tender of John Munro for 115 260 pounds was accepted. and building operations were started the following year in June 1896. On June 8, 1897, President Kruger laid the corner stone. Beneath the corner stone a box had been placed containing a copy of the constitution of the South African Republic, one copy of each of the newspapers then in circulation in the Republic, a copy of the government gazette, a complete set of the coins of the Republic and a copy of the blueprints of the building.
When war broke out in 1899 the main structure was complete but the internal fittings and decorations had not been finished. Work stopped and the building stood deserted until the British forces took over the city in June 1900. Along with all other buildings in Pretoria it was commandeered, and a military hospital was set up in it for the care of wounded and fever-stricken British soldiers. The building contract was completed in 1901 when Munro sent final accounts to London for payment. The building has been used as a Supreme Court ever since.

In 1924, a northern wing was added for additional accommodation. This includes a range of rooms built to enclose the open courtyard, leaving only two cave like openings through which the staircase, which is the finest feature of the building, could just be glimpsed from Vermeulen Street.

The Rivonia Trial of 1964, in which sentences of life imprisonment were pronounced on Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Goven Mbeki, Dennis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni, can be regarded as the most prominent trial that has ever taken place at the Palace of Justice during the history of the Struggle.
When the new Supreme Court was completed in 1993, the Palace could be vacated and restoration could begin. The building was vacant for a period during this stage, and was extensively vandalised on a number of occasions. On the Vermeulen Street side additions (1924) were removed to reveal a typically Renaissance double staircase and other features.
A tender by Gerolemou/Thamane Construction was accepted in 1997 and the restoration contract commenced (with an estimated contract amount on completion of R40 000 000.00). The contract completion date was February 2001.

[edit] Description of site and/or structures and/or interior spaces

The architecture of the building resulted in an ebullient Department of Public Works version of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. There is a fine, well proportioned double staircase with a stone balustrade which sweeps up to a portico in the north face. It was designed to overcome the slope of the site from front to back and to provide a private entrance for the judges, with below it a door for the admittance of prisoners to the cells.
Inside, the most striking thing about the building is the large colonnade hall, which is two storeys high. At first floor level a balcony runs round it with a stone parapet topped by a brass rail. It is lit by a central dome, below which is suspended a large and elaborate chandelier. The two outer wings of the hall have stained glass lights in the roof. The floor is of the black and red encaustic tiles so beloved of the Victorians though not greatly admired since. An interesting feature is the brass covering the bases of the pillars.
The building (at least to law-abiding people) is a joy to behold with its beautiful, soaring entrance hall and graceful columns, the balustrade, the huge chandelier and the soft light through the glass dome on the black and red floor tiles.
The basement is like a a catacomb. It is not actually a basement, being above ground and on a level with Church Square at the front. Presumably it was built this way because of the shallow water table of the central parts of Pretoria.

[edit] Links


[edit] Sources

Heydenrych, H & Swiegers, A. 1999. Discover Pretoria. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: 74; 82.
Allen, V. 1971. Kruger's Pretoria: Buildings and personalities of the city in the nineteenth century with drawings by Hannes Meiring. Cape Town: Balkema: 45-53.
Meiring, H. 1980. Pretoria 125. Cape Town: Human & Rousseau: 71.
Pretoria Institute for Architecture, 2003. Guided Tour of the Palace of Justice, Church Square, Pretoria.

[edit] Photo's

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