The Sammy Marks Museum is a Victorian mansion called Zwartkoppies Hall, situated about 23km outside Pretoria. The 48-room mansion with its lush gardens and tennis courts originally belonged to 19th century agricultural, industrial and mining tycoon Sammy Marks, who lived there with his wife Bertha and their nine children. The estate became a museum in 1986 and the opulent life of the Marks family is remembered today in this carefully preserved house museum and is one of the tourist attractions in South Africa that showcases some of the country's olde world charm.
Sammy Marks was born in Lithuania and moved to South Africa in 1868 aged 24. At first Marks spent his time peddling jewellery before teaming up with his cousin Isaac Lewis to start a business selling supplies to mines and diggers in South Africa’s quickly growing mining towns. The business was a great success and the duo then expanded their interests and opened a distillery, canning factory, glass factory, brick and tile works, maize mill and steel works. The pair were also still very much involved in mining and made a great fortune in the coal mines which lined the banks of the Vaal river. By the end of the 19th century, the pair were both millionaires and their company was ranked among the top 10 richest businesses on the Witwatersrand. It was this great wealth that Marks used to build the impressive Zwartkoppies Hall in 1885.
In his will, Marks declared that Zwartkoppies Hall and all its contents were to be preserved for up to four generations after his death. With the help of the National Cultural History Museum, and later the Ditsong Museum, the house was successfully preserved and turned into a museum. A tour of the estate today provides candid insight into the splendour and opulence in which the so-called Randlords of the time lived.
If you're looking for things to do in Gauteng that incorporate history and art then a visit to this museum is a must. No expense was spared in decorating each of the mansion’s 48 rooms and the finest artisans were brought in to decorate the home in the most extravagant style of the day. As you wander through the rooms of the museum you can’t help but notice the huge amount of oil paintings, exquisite porcelain and silverware on display – evidence of Marks’s high status in society.
Highlights of the museum include the impressive billiards room, which is lined with old photographs of Marks and his family and friends, the huge kitchen area with its 10-plate stove and five different ovens and the extraordinarily well-stocked library, packed with books covering everything from history, mining and agriculture to philosophy, fiction and poetry. The family placed a great emphasis on the importance of education and all nine of Sammy Marks’s children were educated at home (with the help of the vast library) until they were old enough to be sent to England to attend one of the prestigious boarding schools.
The expansive formal gardens which surround the house are also a delight to explore and guided tours of the house and surrounding estate are available.
- Adults: R35
- Pensioners and students: R20
- Children under 18: R10
- Tours are held from Tuesday to Friday at 10am, 11.30am, 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm.
- Tours run on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays from 10am to 4pm (last tour starts at 4pm)
- The museum is closed on Mondays (unless it's a public holiday) and on Good Friday and Christmas Day.
From Pretoria, take the N4 towards Witbank/Emalahleni. Take the Hans Strijdom off-ramp and follow the signposts to the museum: turn left at the top of the off-ramp and continue until you reach a T-junction where the road joins the old Bronkhorstspruit Road (R104). Turn right and cross a small bridge. The turn-off to the museum is along the road, on your left.