Johannesburg is known as the gold capital of the world. Buried below the surface of this vibrant South African city is the world’s largest and richest gold reef. When gold was discovered here just 130 years ago, so many mines sprung up in and around Johannesburg in the rush for gold. Whilst nowadays it is not possible for the general public to visit gold mines that are still operational, you can visit several of the old mines that are no longer in use. There are several tours you can take, or you can visit one of the mines for free by yourself as I will explain below!
The city of Johannesburg was established as a result of the gold rush: it went from literally nothing to a town of several thousands within a matter of weeks when gold was discovered here in 1886. Jo’burg, as it is more affectionately known, grew and flourished as a result of the gold mines as people flocked here from everywhere in search of gold. And the mining continues to this day – the gold reef is 120 kilometres long and seemingly bottomless: these are some of the deepest gold mines in the world, with one of them (Mponeng Gold Mine) going as deep as 4km underground!
Ferreira Mine Stope
Ferreira Mine Stope was one of the first gold mines built in Johannesburg. Ignatius Philip Ferreira joined the gold and diamond rushes in the 1870s. In 1886 he set up camp near the present day Jo’burg Magistrates Courts. He discovered gold, set up the mine and The Ferreira Gold Mining Company was established. However less than 25 years later it went into liquidation as outcrop mining overtook deep level mining (there was 2 types of mining: surface and sub-surface) and over the years the mine got completely forgotten about.
Preserving Ferreira Mine Stope
In the 1980’s during the construction of the Standard Bank Headquarters in Downtown Johannesburg, an access tunnel (stope) to an old mining works a few metres below ground was discovered, which turned out to be the Ferreira Mine Stope. It was decided to preserve a part of the 1880’s Ferreira Mine and keep it as a museum as it was an important part of Jo’burg’s mining heritage. Entrance is free and we were the only ones there when I visited!
Incredibly Ferreira Mine (like many mines) was dug by hand and you can still see the pick marks on the tunnel walls! The museum retains the look of how the mine originally looked – it is really well preserved. Candles in sardine cans were used back in the days during the mine, so the light intensity of the lights installed on the rock faces here is recreated to mimic this ambience as much as possible. Several items are on display to provide you with information about the mine, as well as photographs showing Ferreira and the building of the mine and pictures of old Johannesburg. You can also see mining implements from the site displayed here.
Visiting Ferreira Mine Stope
To visit the Ferreira Mine Stope, head into the Standard Bank Headquarters located on 5 Simmonds Street and go into the lift on the left hand side in the banking hall – the lift has ‘Mineshaft Museum’ written in silver above it. Take the lift down – you’ll be able to see the mine stope through the glass elevator as you go down. Only a part of the mine stope is preserved so the museum is quite small, but it is well worth a visit. It is free to visit and is open from 7am-6pm 7 days a week. Click here to see the Google maps location.
Alternatives to Ferreira Mine Stope
There isn’t a tour guide or anyone to explain things at the Ferreira Mine Stope, just an information leaflet, so if you are looking for more of a tour and to make a day of it and really learn about the gold mine history, I recommend to book on a day tour with Ekala Eco Tours to visit some of the other gold mines around Jo’burg.
If you don’t fancy a whole day tour, head over to Kromdraai Gold Mine and join one of their short tours. Kromdraai is a gold mine that is really recommended to visit and is just 40 minutes north of Johannesburg. It costs 150 Rand (£8) to enter the old mine and you learn all about the history of the gold rush. Tours depart on the hour between 9am-3pm on weekends.
Alternatively (and the most fun option!) you can visit Gold Reef City – a popular amusement park in Johannesburg built to replicate a thriving mining town. It takes you back to Jo’burg’s heyday and brings it’s history back to life – there are period house, staff in period costume, a saloon to enjoy a pint in and even a penny farthing to ride on, as well as the rides. It is certainly a fun day out! Gold Reef City was built on Shaft 14, the richest gold mine in the world during it’s time. You can also do a tour and go down in a replica gold mine shaft, walk through the tunnels with a torch and a hard hat to experience what the miners had to endure, and also you can see gold being poured.
Can you visit an operational mine?
No operational gold mine currently allows underground access to the general public. However you can visit an operational diamond mine – the Cullinan diamond mine near Pretoria offers underground tours.
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