Exploring the Main Street Mining District

23 Feb 2024
Downtown Main Street has been home to the city’s mining headquarters ever since Johannesburg was founded 130 years ago. Back then Johannesburg was little more than a dusty mining camp filled with fortune hunters and prospectors, but in the space of just three years it became the biggest settlement in South Africa. Through the 1890s and early 1900s, the low-rise buildings that dotted the landscape were steadily replaced with taller, grander edifices that reflected the metropolitan’s sudden enormous wealth.

You can explore the city’s early mining history along seven blocks of this pedestrianised main street, starting from Gandhi Square and ending at Ntemi Piliso Street. Old relics of the gold rush such as mining headgear, stamp presses and carts line the way, complemented by information boards detailing mining history.

Highlights of the Main Street Mining District include:

The Mapungubwe Rhino
At the corner of Main Street and Harrison Street you can't miss the replica of the famous golden Mapungubwe rhino. The monument is a vastly up-scaled replica of the 800-year old, 6cm-tall golden sculpture which was discovered in the Mapungubwe region of Limpopo and is now housed at the University of Pretoria.

The South African Chamber of Mines
At the intersection of Main and Simmonds Street you'll find the South African Chamber of Mines building and the headquarters of BHP Billiton, whose facade is lined with a set of Art Deco friezes that portray a brief history of South Africa (albeit a one-sided white version of it). Other notable features of this street include the giant Langlaagte Stamp Battery (which dates back to 1886) and a collection of old mine locomotives and covered wagons. In the front of the Chamber of Mines building on Pixley ka Isaka Seme Street is a sculpture of a mineworker at work at the mine face, erected in 2007. A plaque next to the statue reads: “The monument represents the symbolic and historical role played by mineworkers in shaping the economics of the mining towns and labour-sending areas, in particular, and that of South Africa, in general.”

Cafe culture
Between Harrison Street and Pixley ka Isaka Seme Street stop for a coffee at one of the cluster of busy cafes with tables that spill out onto the pavement such as Cramers or City Perk Cafe both also ideal spots for people watching.

Ferreira's Mine Stope
Underneath the massive Standard Bank headquarters two blocks over on the corner of Simmonds and Frederick Streets, visit an 1886 mine tunnel entrance, now a small museum.

Anglo American
One of the most noteworthy buildings on Main Street is the former headquarters of Anglo American mining company (corner Ntemi Piliso Street). Modelled on the League of Nations complex in Geneva, the AngloAmerican campus includes sculptures by celebrated South African artists, fountains, and an urban garden along the pedestrianised Main Street. The undoubted highlight is the bronze sculpture of a herd of leaping impalas.

The Magistrates Court and Chancellor House
At the western end of the pedestrianised section of Main Street you’ll find the Magistrate’s Court, which faces Chancellor House, once the offices of the first black law firm in the city, Mandela and Tambo Attorneys. There is a smart open-air museum with window displays focusing on the life of Nelson Mandela, and our favourite Mandela statue, of him shadowboxing, by sculptor Marco Cianfanelli. 1 Fox Precinct, a colourful area of restored century-old warehouses that now house function spaces, a club, market, restaurant, craft brewery and beer garden, is a two-minute walk from here via Fox Street.

GETTING THERE: From Park Station Gautrain station take the CBD J2 Gautrain bus and get off at the Main Street stop. The open-top City Sightseeing bus also stops at Main Street.


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