South Africa’s largest city is brimming with brilliant museums, soaring skyscrapers and sprawling forest-like parks. Curious to learn more about South Africa‘s blockbuster city? From its goldrush roots to the home of nearly half of the world’s early hominid fossils, here are a few interesting facts about Johannesburg we’ll bet you haven’t heard before.
Interesting Facts About Johannesburg
1. Johannesburg has been rebuilt four times
Johannesburg has changed identities a handful of times in little more than a century. It started life as a tented camp, then a shanty town, then an Edwardian city and metropolis of modern skyscrapers.
2. Johannesburg is home to almost half of the world’s human fossils
The Cradle of Humans, also known as the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s most important paleoanthropological areas. It’s produced a staggering number of human fossils, accounting for over 40% of those circulating today.
Experts have found some of the oldest hominin fossils here too, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago. The fossils have enabled experts to identify several specimens of early hominids and evidence of the domestication of fire 1.8-1 million years ago.
3. Johannesburg is home to the tallest building in the continent
The Hillbrow Tower is the tallest tower in Africa. Soaring an impressive 269 metres (883 ft) high, it’s retained its title for over 50 years. Until 1978, it was the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere, though Mount Issa Chimney in Queensland later took that title.
South African Posts and Telecommunications constructed the tower as the rest of the skyline got higher. BUilding took place at a rate of 18 cm per hour, six days a week and 24 hours a day. It closed to visitors in 1981 for security reasons, but before that it was a popular tourist destination. There was a revolving restaurant, the highest in Africa, and a public observation deck.
4. It’s the world’s largest man-made urban forest
Johannesburg is home to the largest man-made urban forest in the world, with more than 10 million trees. The trees help reduce carbon emissions while improving local residents’ quality of life. From above, it looks like a rainforest.
There are an estimated 1.2 million trees within the parks and dotted along the pavements and 4.8 million trees in private gardens across the suburbs.
5. You’ll find the world’s deepest mine in Johannesburg
Two billion years ago, a giant meteor struck the earth around 120 km southwest of Johannesburg. It buried the Witwatersrand gold deposits up to several kilometres deep, protecting the gold from erosion and creating the deepest-level goldmine in the world.
The discovery of gold in the late 19th century spurred a gold rush – fortune hunters from across the world descended on the area and the population grew rapidly.
The city is still proud of its golden roots. You can even visit the Gold Reef City, an amusement park built on an old gold mine that closed in 1971. It’s themed around the gold rush that started on the Witwatersrand and the buildings mimic the period. There’s also a little onsite museum dedicated to the history of gold mining, where you can see a gold-containing ore vein.
6. It’s one of the youngest modern cities in the world
Johannesburg is one of the youngest major cities in the world. It was founded in 1886, after the discovery of gold. The city initially became part of the Transvaal, an independent Afrikaner or Boer republic that later became one of the four provinces of South Africa. It became a city in 1928 – the largest city in South Africa.
7. Johannesburg is home to the Nelson Mandela National Museum
Also known as Mandela House, Nelson Mandela lived in this house from 1946 to 1962. It is located in Soweto, around 20 kilometres southwest of Johannesburg. The area is one of Johannesburg’s most famous areas of planned segregation, where authorities housed black labourers far from the city centre in corrugated iron shacks. The Apartheid Museum gives comprehensive insights into apartheid through photos, news clippings, personal accounts and film footage.