In the 19th century a few wood and iron shacks leapt up onto a fairly empty highveld plain, where prospectors aimed to become rich. Gold!! This precious metal led to the shacks morphing into the city of gold, and up until recently incorporated many head offices of the central business district. A guided trip to downtown by City Skate Tours will open the city’s innards to you, the hustle and bustle that’s the engine of this metropolis.
The City’s Popular Areas
Newtown is part of the Johannesburg inner city regeneration project and includes houses, museums, and theatre spaces to satisfy the most particular visitor. Easily accessible via the Nelson Mandela Bridge, the area boasts three theatres, two art galleries and a well-attended flea market on Saturday mornings. You simply cannot miss Museum Africa, looking at “the time the world forgot”.
The museum stands at the end of Mary Fitzgerald Square – Mary being the first SA female trade unionist. The head sculptures decorating the square were all carved by Newtown street artists and are a real asset to the space. Just around the corner is the well-known Market Theatre, founded in 1976 and converted from a run-down marketplace into a cultural arena for some of the country’s best actors and playwrights who were adamant that this would be a non-racial theatre
Maboneng translates to a place of light. Before the turn of the century, Johannesburg inner city artists had nowhere to work, store or display their work. Since 2009 the precinct has grown into a unique and vibrant centre housing working artists in their own space, restaurants, coffee shops and a bar. The Jozi inner city renaissance project has turned a previously dangerous area into a day’s outing for visitors and residents alike. Browse the art, buy souvenirs, stop off for lunch, and round your day off by taking a guided tour of the city.
Library Gardens / Beyers Naudé Square
Beyers Naudé Square, formerly known as the Library Gardens, is probably the best place from which to watch skateboarding in the inner city. On weekends skaters flock to this area, especially from early to late afternoon when the sun is less harsh. When it’s not used by skaters over weekends, it’s a popular meeting spot for rallies or marches and is one of the city’s few open-air spaces, it boasts an A-grade Johannesburg Heritage status.
Top Tip: Library Gardens / Beyers Naudé Square
During the week, one can also expect a large security presence due to the square’s close proximity to the Gauteng Provincial Legislature, making it one of the city’s safest areas!
Jozi’s Historic Buildings
Located right in the centre of town, this building is another throwback to Johannesburg’s Art Deco era (1920s – 1940s); at that time, many buildings in the city were designed and built in this style. Today Ansteys is a well-known residential building in the inner city and a meeting place for locals – the name Ansteys resonates with many Jozi citizens who knew it as an upmarket department store.
Chancellor House is a three-story building in the inner city where the law practice of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela’s had its rooms. These days it is a freedom struggle museum, with the timeline of Mandela’s transition from law into politics well reflected on its windows, giving visitors and viewers a better understanding of Mandela’s journey. Well – placed between the Johannesburg Central Magistrates Court and Johannesburg Central Police Station (formerly known as the infamous John Vorster Police Station), it played an important role in the lives of Black people under apartheid, especially when they were looking for quality legal services.
Rissik Street Post office
Built in 1897 in a mix of architectural styles, this building still stands today. As it’s listed as a Johannesburg Heritage Building, and has since become a national monument, the façade may not be changed in any way, although the inside may be altered. Plans for its renovation were approved after it was gutted by fire; the reconstruction project has begun to restore the building to a safe and functional state. It is hoped to use the vast space for either a museum or art gallery, or perhaps a concert venue. The tower clock has a special history – it is known as the “Coronation Clock” to mark King Edward’s coronation.