Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Guided City Walk

On Sunday we went on a guided city walk with the Amblers Hiking Club. My mum normally walks with them every now and then, and i saw this walk advertised in the paper, thought it couldn't have been better timing!

The main objective of the walk was to look at all the Art Deco buildings that Durban has. Durban is deemed as Africa's Miami as it has the best Art Deco examples in Africa. But there were a few other buildings of interest also seen and explored.

We started at the Point Yacht Club and walked up the Esplanade and then right into Russle Street. Just off Russle Street we went into the Old House Museum, a replica of one of the oldest houses in Durban. It has been preserved with genuine artifacts and furniture as well as having one of the biggest gardens in the centre of town. In the Garden are old Buggies and a beautifully built carriage. The original building was built in the 1900's and was home to the Mercury's proprietor and editor, George Robinson, and then his son, John Robinson who became Natals Prime Minister in 1893. Needless to say the Old House hosted many of Durbans prominent colonist families. Admission is amazingly free and is open from 8:30am to 4pm Monday to Saturday and 11pm to 4pm on Sundays. Well worth a visit.

Next on our walk was the Zulu Christian Church. You might've seen it on your travels in town. Its Huge! The security guards weren't very keen to have us in there as there were big buckets of money at the alter. However the parishioners were very friendly; they all introduced themselves and shook our hands. Not too sure if this was worth the stop... but still interesting to go in. Because of its size and 'grandness' its always been on of those places I wanted to go look at inside.

While we were walking along the streets, i think everybody thought we were from overseas as they all were shouting hello and were very friendly. In the quieter roads people were all coming to their windows and waving from their flats. We really must've looked like serious tourists as we were all in walking gear and if i'm honest there were a few funny people with us. So it was a good experiment to see what the "locals" will be like with real tourists in a few weeks from now. I say "locals" because i don't know how many people i saw were actually from Durban, perhaps Nigeria and Pakistan. We noticed a few blocks of flats that were really run down, there was a terrible smell coming from them and all the windows were broken. I believe that slum lords have overtaken them and they are used for illegal purposes.

Next on Grey street was the Guma Musjid Mosque. It was built in 1880-1882 by local architects and builders. This made it cheaper. It is the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere and really is beautiful! What impressed me the most was how intricately and ornately it was decorated. As you enter you see the foot washing area, and there is a koi fish pond in the middle of the fish washing area. There is a separate area for men and women to pray and wash their feet. Interesting to note that in the mens' section there was a clock on every wall and time seemed very important, while in the womens' praying area, there was only one clock and no koi fish pond! If and when you go to the Grey street mosque, it is important to dress respectfully. Ladies please wear long sleeved shirts and no low cut tops. There are no shoes allowed into the Mosque building, but there is a safe place to leave them outside.
I will write on it separately as they found out i was writing a blog on it and have promised to send me a whole wod of information. And i do think that it is so special it does need a separate entry!

From there we walked to the Emanual Cathedral. This catholic church was built in 1905. Being very close to Warwick Triangle and the bus stops, one would imagine it is pretty dirty, but the cathedral grounds are immaculate inside the boundary walls. Everything is in pristine condition. Along the side walls of the church are the different stations of the cross all expertly carved out of stone. These stations of the cross were donated by Empress Eugenie in remembrance of her son Louis Napoleon. The stain glass work is one of a kind. I learnt that stained glass windows were used to educate the illiterate, through pictures rather than words. We climbed up the bell tower, the view from the top is sureal, the video below does not do it justice. The climb to the top isn't for the feint hearted, there are lots of ladders and small spaces to get through, but it is worth it. I was suprised to find that it is the only "viewing deck" in Durban from which you cannot see the new Stadium! I really get excited about being in a space that has so much history and SO much energy, and i really felt it here. This was the highlight.

Interesting to note that besides from Isreal, Durban is the only place in the world that has a Mosque, a Catheral and a Temple within a kilometer of eachother. Perhaps we can claim that we are only place in the world were they co-exist peacefully!

We then took a stroll down the old West street and looked at all the different building types on there. We also looked at the new Mutual Mall, which looks really good. We were making our way to the old Post office and the Durban City Hall. We noticed that they were planting a vegetable garden outside the City Hall, we assumed it was in benefit of those who could not get fresh vegies. Nice touch! They are busy refurbishing the outside as the sand stone does not age very well. So our guide told us that they clean the outside and then pant it in a similar colour so it looks the same and the delicate sandstone underneath it protected for the moment. I plan to go to the Durban City hall to watch the Kwa Zulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra play one Thursday night. So i will write more on it then.

We then turned back and into Durban Club Place, where we found one of Durbans most acclaimed buildings, the Nedbank Building, designed by Norman Eaton. It has one many awards not for the way it looks but more for the design of it. Also for the terracotta tiles/bricks that are
almost 'shelling' the buildings. They are green in colour and make the building look a little better these were made by Hendrik De Szanderes. It really isn't anything to look at especially with Durban Manor right across the road. However, it does remain one of Durbans best buildings, so i'm told.

As we got back to the Esplanade Dick King was waiting to greet us on his horse. He is famous for his 10 day ride on horseback to Grahamstown to round up British troops for the Old Fort.

This walk took 3 and a half hours but because we were a big group it took longer than it should especially as only 10 people were allowed in the Bell Tower at a time. I really count myself lucky to do this walk because i got to see a lot of the things i miss just driving past and i got to go into a lot of the buildings i would normally never have gone into. I am trying to organise another tour from Musgrave Centre to the harbour, if you are interested please let me know.

Perhaps Botanical Gardens or Mitchel Park this weekend, or both!

Happy Day Tripping!

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