The Main Street mining district

The mineshaft headframe was relocated to Johannesburg from Langlaagte, close to where George Harrison made the gold find that triggered the gold rush in the 1880s.

The mineshaft headframe was relocated to Johannesburg from Langlaagte, close to where George Harrison made the gold find that triggered the gold rush in the 1880s. (Image: South African Tourism)

Johannesburg was built on gold and sits on the edge of the world’s largest known gold deposits. Gold was first discovered near what is now Main Street in downtown Johannesburg in 1886, and today the well-preserved historical area surrounding Main Street’s six pedestrianised blocks, between Chancellor House and Gandhi Square, is known as the mining district. Discover the city’s rich mining history by walking these streets that gold built.

Follow the Main Street mining trail

Main Street.

Main Street. (Image: South African Tourism)

Trace the history of the gold rush on a stroll down Main Street. There are various relics from the early mining days to be found, such as an old stamp press, mine carts, a headgear lift tower and a covered wagon. Information boards detail the story of each item with photographs showing how remarkably different the street looked when the gold rush was just in its infancy and gold prospectors pitched tents next to their claims. Also not to be missed are the beautiful carved reliefs of African animals and miners found on the facade of the 1940s Anglo American building and the charming statue of bronze impalas leaping over a fountain, which sits in front.

Revisit colonial Johannesburg at the Rand Club

Founded in 1887 as a members-only club, the grand building housing the Rand Club is an excellent example of the colonial style much loved by Johannesburg’s first mining magnates, the “Randlords”. These days the club is open to the public every Thursday evening and for events such as theatre shows and lectures. Inside you’ll find an array of interesting items from a bygone era, such as royal portraits, hunting trophies, beer served in engraved pewter tankards and thousands of rare leather-bound books. Highlights of the building itself include a grand marble staircase and the wood-panelled Main Bar, said to be the longest bar in Africa.

See the 120-year-old Ferreira Mine Stope

The exhibition in the Mine Shaft Museum below the Standard Bank headquarters.

The exhibition in the Mine Shaft Museum below the Standard Bank headquarters. (Image: South African Tourism)

Underneath the massive Standard Bank headquarters on Simmonds Street you can visit the Ferreira Mine Stope, an old mine tunnel entrance dating back to 1886 that was only rediscovered in 1986 when the current building was under construction. Here you can see the sheer rock face that the early miners had to smash through to get at Gauteng’s rich gold seams. In places you can even still see the scratches made by their pick axes. There is also a small exhibition that details how the early miners extracted the gold, illustrated by original photographs and old mining equipment such as gas lamps and tools.

Contemporary art and cafe culture.

The Standard Bank Art Gallery is one of the best contemporary art galleries in the city and regularly presents new exhibitions by established artists working in all kinds of media. After a visit to the gallery take a break by sitting under the trees at one of Main Street’s pavement cafes. During the week friendly coffee shops such as Cramer’s Coffee or the old-fashioned Pino’s Italian Coffee Shoppe hum with local office workers grabbing a coffee on their lunch break.

Directory

Anglo American 45 Main Street, Johannesburg
The Rand Club 33 Loveday Street, Johannesburg, tel: +27 (0)11 870 4260, www.randclub.co.za
Ferreira Mine Stope 5 Simmonds Street, Johannesburg, tel: +27 (0)11 631 4467, www.standardbankarts.co.za
Standard Bank Art Gallery Corner Simmonds Street and Frederick Street, Johannesburg, tel: +27 (0)11 631 4467, www.standardbankarts.co.za
Cramer’s Coffee Corner Harrison Street and Main Street, Johannesburg, tel. +27 (0)11 833 2699, www.cramerscoffee.com
Pino’s Italian Coffee Shoppe Corner Simmonds Street and Fox Street, Johannesburg, tel. +27 (0)11 834 3993