Z.A.R. Staatsmuseum, cnr. Boom and Thabo Sehume Street, Tshwane CBD

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Condition Under threat
Date of origin 15 December 1904
Previous names

Z.A.R. Museum


Place Tshwane CBD
Street Cnr. Boom and Thabo Sehume Streets
Town Pretoria
Magisterial district Tshwane
Province Gauteng
Country South Africa
GPS coordinates 25°44'19.35"S 28°11'23.52"E
Planning authority name City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality
Architect/Firm Departement Publieke Werken (Public Works Department), ZAR
Project architect/Designer S.W. Wierda
Commissioning owner Departement Publieke Werken, ZAR
Current owner National Research Foundation (NRF)
Current occupant None
Previous uses Museum
Current use None
Classification/Typology Museum
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The Staatsmuseum of the South African Republic (ZAR) was a national museum, founded by and intended for the government. The policy of the Staatsmuseum provided for historical, anthropological, archaeological and natural history exhibitions and collections. The museum stated that their mission was to make the public and society aware of cultural aspects focusing specifically on history, ethnographt, archaeology and the natural sciences (Grobler, 1994:17).

The Staatsmuseum effectively served to specialize in South African history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was also a national museum intended to reflect the status of the Republic. The national character of the Staatsmuseum was clear from the nature of its exhibitions, in particular the historical displays, but the exhibited flora and fauna also contributed to its character.

When the Anglo-Boer War broke out, the patriotic aura of the Staatsmuseum became even more pronounced because burghers in the commandos were invited to contribute memorabilia such as lances, rifles, cannons, clothes, banners and papers from the battlefield. These objects were seen as signs of victory [‘zegeteekenen’] used to bolster the national sentiment. The Anglo Boer War, therefore, had a distinct impact on the Museum, with the British influence bringing about many changes.

The ZAR museum has had a rich history regarding its role in the cultural development in South Africa, earning a significant place in the history of Pretoria as one of the first museums.

Current known heritage status

According to SAHRA (South African Heritage Resources Agency) and as stated by the National Heritage Resoures Act No. 25 of 1999 (Section 5, 36 and 47), any structure older than 60 years will need a permit to be altered or demolished.

The Staatsmuseum was been declared a National Monument, therefore it is a Grade 2 Provincial Heritage Resource.

Possible interested and affected parties

  1. National Zoological Gardens
  2. Pretoria Institute for Architecture (PIA)
  3. National Department of Public Works
  4. Department of Architecture, University of Pretoria


The Staatsmuseum was established in Pretoria in 1892 and can be attributed to the initiative of the ZAR State Secretary, Dr. W.J. Leyds, who was regarded by the board of the State Museum as ‘the Father of the State Museum.’ The museum was originally housed in a small room on the top floor of the New Council Chamber, also referred to as the ‘Nuwe Raadsaal’, adjacent to the clock tower on Church Square. In 1894, due to insufficient space and its inaccessibility to visitors, the government allocated the museum to a small building at the Pretoria fresh-produce market, located on what is today known as Sammy Marks Square on Van der Walt Street. In December 1897, Dr. J.W.B. Gunning was appointed as the museum director. The collection obtained by the museum grew exponentially and the need for a larger space became evident. In December 1898, after several attempts to establish a new ‘proper’ museum building, tenders were released for a building situated on Boom Street, at the point of intersection with Andries Street. It was at this location, in July 1899, that the cornerstone of the new building was laid. Interruption of the building process occurred at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War on 11 October 1899. After the occupation of Pretoria by the British forces on 5 June 1900, the Staatsmuseum of the ZAR was reopened as the Pretoria Museum under the new British Military Government. At the request of the Management Committee, the name was changed to the Transvaal Museum in 1903. After the war, on 20 January 1902, the British colonial government closed a contract for the completion of the building with the same builder that was contracted to build the museum before the war. 15 December 1904 marked the completion of the Museum building. Dr J.W.B. Gunning stayed on as director until his death in 1913. In 1930, the museum exhibited significant and spectacular collections of historical, ethnographic and archeological importance, most of which were donated. The Anglo-Boer War, however, had a distinct impact on the Museum, as a result of the many changes that were brought about by the British influence. These changes impacted the focus of the museum, the committee and the name of the museum. As a result, the old museum was abandoned as head office and the building was cleared in 1991. In 1992, as it was a time of social and political change, a new approach was incorporated to ensure the museum’s future. This involved a shift from a general national museum (Staatsmuseum) to a museum that zealously focussed on the natural world. The property on which the Staatsmuseum stands today was originally owned by J.F. Cilliers and was known as ‘Rus in Urbe’. This was bought by the Government in 1895, to accommodate their long-term plan to develop the Pretoria National Zoo.

Description of site and/or structures and/or interior spaces

The building is a double-storey plastered brick structure, designed in an ‘eclectic architectural style’ characteristic of South African design at the end of the 19th century. The northern façade or the back of the building extends into the Pretoria National Zoo. The south-facing front facade is of sandstone and the corrugated iron roof sports triangular ventilators. The front façade is of utmost importance as it is situated on the north-south axis where Andries Street meets Boom Street. The entrance is placed central in the symmetrical façade, with elaborate detailing such as Corinthian pilasters adding to the character of the exterior. Because the entrance to the museum is richly decorated, it was decided to limit the complexity of the rest of the façade on either side of the entrance. The detailing is of cement plaster. Exhibition spaces were designed around a central atrium; this was a popular design decision by architects practicing at this time as can be seen in other landmarks in the Pretoria CBD such as the Old Council Chamber (‘Raadsaal’) and the Palace of Justice. The atrium was an important design consideration as it formed a ‘security frame’ around the artefacts and pieces of interest (Grobler, 1994:160). The final plan provided six large spaces and four medium sized spaces for exhibition purposes, practically applied with high volumes, large doors, windows and ceilings to eliminate restrictiveness as to what could be exhibited and what not. Currently, the exhibition spaces are quite dilapidated. The building also has a basement.

The Southern Wing. The darkly painted clerestory windows do not allow light to penetrate. Therefore, the entire ground floor of the south wing and the west wing are extremely dark. The disconnected southern towers consist of two separate timber staircases that lead up to the second storey, with views into the courtyard and out onto busy Boom Street. The top storey is more private and for sufficient amounts of light to enter. Pressed steel constitutes the ceilings of the upper storey. A low timber ceiling was added under the top floor.

The Eastern Wing. The eastern wing of the building consists of a high pressed-steel ceiling and clerestory windows which still allow for good light, despite being partially enclosed and weathered. A further addition to the eastern wing was added within the courtyard. This addition is dark and dilapidated.

The Western Wing. The western wing is accessed through two big timber doors while the courtyard is accessed by means of four smaller timber doors. During the building phase of the museum, the western façade was the location for the offloading of building materials that were transported to the site by means of horse carriages. Therefore, the façade doors were used as entry from the offloading platform into the building interior. This provides an explanation for a door height of 4 metres as well as the lack of exterior stairs. The ceiling of the western wing is also a high pressed-steel ceiling and is vaulted in.

The Northern Wing. This wing is warm and filled with light. The main area consists of a staircase as focal point which leads up to the second floor. Three isolated display rooms, to the east of the northern wing as well as within the adjacent eastern wing, are later additions. Partially rebuilt storage rooms constitute the western side of the northern wing. On the upper level, one main wall originally divided the space into two distinct sections. Later additions, however, have resulted in many irregular sub-rooms. The northern wing houses the staircase that leads into the basement.

The Basement. The basement consists of one main room with interleading arched corridors. Only the northern façade has basement windows.

Site Topography. The natural ground level slopes down a storey height from the northern to the southern façade.

The museum is currently in a derelict condition. The building has suffered damage due to burst pipes, and weathering due to the elements is evident. Traces of the old collections and display cabinets can still be seen in the old museum building. Due to the lack of maintenance, the property is currently a static, disused space and it is not clear who has control over it.

A significant element of the front facade is the pediment displaying the British Coat of Arms.




GROBLER, E. 1994. Die Staatsmuseum van die Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek en sy historiese en etnografiese versamelings. MA (Museum studies) thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria.

BRAIN, C.K. Natural History at the Transvaal Museum 1901-1992, in N.J. Dippenaar (ed.), Staatsmuseum 100, p. 18.

GREYLING, P.J. 2000. Pretoria and the Anglo-Boer War: a guide. Pretoria: Protea Book House.


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Staatsmuseum facade

Staatsmuseum Corinthian Capital
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Staatsteater entrance
Staatsmuseum entrance

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