Joint capital of KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa, 88 km/55 mi northwest of Durban; population (2001) 553,200. There are tanning, footwear, furniture, aluminium, rubber, and brewing industries. Founded in 1838 by Boer Voortrekkers from the Cape, it was named after their leaders, Pieter Retief and Gerrit Maritz, who were killed by Zulus. It was capital of Natal Province until 1994, when Natal became part of KwaZulu-Natal and the city became joint capital with Ulundi.
Pietermaritzburg is the seat of an Anglican bishop and houses one campus of the University of Natal; it has also many schools and colleges. The city hall is one of the finest Victorian buildings in South Africa. There is an art gallery, library, hospital, and the Natal Museum, notable for its collection of wild animals and insects. The botanical gardens, created in 1874, stretch over 40 ha/100 acres. Pietermaritzburg is set in a countryside of lakes, streams and waterfalls.
Retief and Maritz were leaders of the Voortrekkers who crossed the Drakensberg in 1838 into Natal. Retief was murdered, together with his followers, by Dingaan, the Zulu chief. Later Andries Pretorius made a vow that if God gave his men victory they would build a church and set apart one day every year to commemorate it. The sequel was the decisive victory of the Battle of Blood River. The Church of the Vow was subsequently built, in old Cape Dutch style, and opened for worship in 1840. It was later acquired for the nation and is now a museum for Voortrekker relics. A British regiment garrisoned the town in 1856, when Natal was made a separate colony.
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