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Palladio, Gandhi and Mandela

Aktualisiert: 16. Sept. 2023

It was an era of profound transformations and great hopes in the heart of South Africa, in those years that were shaping the future of the country.

Four British colonies, Natal, Cape of Good Hope, Transvaal, and Orange Free State, came together to create a new political entity, born from the ashes of colonial rule over the Boer republics. The establishment of the Union of South Africa was an attempt to unite the diverse communities and their interests under one government, in a context where racial discrimination and social inequalities were still very much present.

Today, the grand statue of Nelson Mandela stands imposingly but with a smile at the base of the entrance steps, welcoming those who arrive with a huge embrace.

At that time, the spiritual father of the country had not yet been born, but the struggle for equality and civil rights was already alive, thanks to leaders like a young lawyer, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who had begun to defend the rights of the Indian population in South Africa.

These movements would gain momentum over time, contributing to the fight against oppression and injustice.

Despite inequalities and social issues, South Africa in 1909 was also a place of cultural and political ferment.

The challenges that South Africa would face on its path towards democracy and equality were in their early stages.

While the Union of South Africa sought to forge a national identity and overcome divisions, racial and social inequalities posed a significant obstacle.

However, the diverse ethnic and cultural communities, including Boers, British, Indians, and indigenous populations, brought with them a wealth of traditions and ideas that contributed to the country's diversity.

Therefore, the South Africa of 1909 was a country where hopes and tensions coexisted.

In that year, the South African government decided to construct a building that would embody the strength and greatness of their newly formed nation.

Thus, the Union Buildings were born, an impressive architectural masterpiece destined to become the very symbol of the country's unity.

The choice of architectural style for the Union Buildings was not accidental: the South African government desired an architecture that would embody the grandeur and magnificence of classical civilizations, drawing inspiration from a world that had also been British and was now evolving beyond, as it had been in a different way for the United States.

Neo-Palladianism, in a further renewed version, seemed to perfectly meet these requirements. Thus, the designers Herbert Baker and Sir Edwin Lutyens got to work: construction began in 1909 and required four years of commitment and dedication to see the light of day.

The Union Buildings stood majestically on a hill, dominating the skyline of Pretoria.

Their façade was a testament to the perfection that a society can aspire to, harmoniously balancing the parts within the organism.

The Corinthian columns, supported by imposing pedestals, seemed to evoke the glorious days of ancient Greece and Rome.

The Union Buildings represented the union of the various South African states that had come together to form their Union, a place where diversity could find common ground, a place where decisions that would shape the future of the country would be made together.

In addition to their role as the seat of government, the Union Buildings were also - and still are - a gathering place for the people. People gather in their vast gardens, admiring the panoramic view of the city and seizing the opportunity to participate in the journey of democracy.

It is in this capacity to merge with the surrounding landscape, as in the Palladian Villas of our territory, together with the ability to evoke a past - certainly Western - but of democracy and idealism, that lies the greatness that everyone still admires in these architectures.

The Union Buildings have witnessed many important historical moments.

They have welcomed political leaders, been the venue for significant speeches, and have witnessed celebrations and protests. Over the years, they have become a symbol of democracy and hope for the future of a multicultural nation.

Today, the Union Buildings continue to enchant visitors with their timeless beauty. Their architectural magnificence, the homage to Palladianism, as well as the choice of local materials and their treatment, along with the symbiosis with a truly South African garden and landscape in front of them, constitute a tribute to the historical roots of South Africa and its ability to overcome challenges and unite as a nation.

The story of the Union Buildings is a tale of ambition, determination, and unity.

It's a narrative of how architecture can convey a message of hope and progress that transcends the boundaries of time and space.

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