Today we were headed off to be real tourists, joining the internationally known Red “Hop on hop off” Bus. I must say that never would I have imagined that Jozi would have a hop on hop off Bus particularly one that ran thru the heart of the CBD. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been in the heart of Johannesburg, so I was both excited and a little apprehensive about it but the trip adviser reviews were extremely positive from both locals and visitors so I figured that was a good start.
We started our tour at Gold Reef City on the south side, a casino and theme park celebrating and commemorating the rise and fall of gold mining in the City of Gold.
From Gold Reef we started to make our way into the city centre. The roads and highways here kick some serious goals.
Once in the city centre we weaved our way to the mining district where we jumped off.
We wandered around the mining district where Anglo America is the standout occupant, and housed in some pretty magnificent old buildings – a real blast from the past of what the CBD would have been like many decades ago
From the mining district we made our way around to SAB World – the beer factory 🙂 As we had already done the beer tour on a previous trip we decided to skip it – i know what were we thinking – and jump back on the bus.
From SAB we made our way across Nelson Mandela Bridge
We decided to skip a few stops and head straight to Constitution Hill. Constitution Hill is the seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The hill was formerly the site of a fort which was later used as a prison. The Old Fort Prison complex is known as Number Four. The original prison was built to house white male prisoners in 1892. The Old Fort was built around this prison by Paul Kruger from 1896 to 1899 to protect the South African Republic from the threat of British invasion.
With the later addition of the “native prison”, called “Number Four”, and the Women’s Jail, the complex came to be a detention centre for political dissidents, striking mineworkers, those deemed “anti-establishment” and those who simply violated the inhuman pass laws of the time. An awaiting-trial block was constructed in the 1920s. Former president Nelson Mandela and passive resistance leader Mahatma Gandhi were among the many pro-democracy leaders who served time at the infamous prison.
Today, the notorious site of yesteryear has become a symbol of freedom. The Awaiting Trial Block of the Old Fort made way for the Constitutional Court, which works to uphold the rights and dignity of all who live in South Africa. Ordinary South Africans can visit the court, the highest in the country, and watch the judges at work. The first court session in the new building at this location was held in February 2004. The court building itself was built using bricks from the demolished awaiting-trial wing of the former prison.
We spent about an hour and half being shown around the fort, the old prisons and the new court by one of the tour guides and i would recommend visiting this site to locals and tourists alike it has an amazing history to look back on and a bright future to look forward too.
The court is located on the edge of the notorious suburb of Hillbrow – one that i have known since my first arrival in South Africa in the mid 1990’s that it was a no ifs no buts no go zone, and remains so still today. It is known for its high levels of population density, unemployment, poverty and crime. This view of Hillbrow from the fort is the closest that i have ever been.
From the fort we jumped back on the bus and weaved our back through the city, past the streetside food vendors, the hustle and bustle of buses and people at Gandi Square, past the new Sandton (Park) Station, part of the new rapid transit system opened in 2010 linking the hub of Sandton with Pretoria (the Capital) and O.R Tambo International Airport. Our next stop was the Carlton Centre for a 50th Floor View of the city.
The Carlton Centre is a skyscraper and shopping centre located in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa. At 223 metres (732 ft), it has been the tallest office building in Africa for 41 years. Once the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere, the Carlton Centre opened with the 5-star and 30-story Carlton Hotel taking up most of the floor space of the complex. The hotel was popular among the rich and famous, hosting many famous guests over the years. Urban decay in the inner city during the 1990s took a toll on the hotel, which shut its doors in 1997 after nearly 25 years of operation.
Along with many other CBD buildings the owners of the time bricked and boarded up their properties hoping for better economic and environmental times in the CBD. Whilst the CBD is experiencing a revitalisation and the Carlton Centre shopping complex is a testimony to this, the hotel remains bricked up with much of the hotel remaining as it was left in the 1990s. A glimpse through the old gold turnstile doors shows the beautiful old wooden reception desks covered in dust but still there in all their 5-star glory – oh what i would do to get a glimpse inside this building !!!!
The 50th and topmost floor of the Carlton Centre is known colloquially as the “Top of Africa”.
By this time the day was getting away from us so we headed back to the bus and back to our drop off point before heading back to home.
I really cant speak highly enough of this tour, its easy, uncomplicated, well designed and with good maps to follow when you want to wander around at each stop, the information between stops is brilliant and covers a lot of ground – both good and bad – the staff were extremely friendly and helpful and most of all i can now say that i have not only been into the CBD but that i have seen it and experienced it. It might have taken almost 20 years LOL but i love it and i love that you can see the revitalisation all around mixing in with the heart of the sole of the “new” CBD.