NOTED! Johannesburg, the "City of Gold"

Most well-known as the largest city of South Africa and the second largest city in all of Africa,  Johannesburg is the busiest metropolis of the country and steeped in years and years of history. Often referred to as "Joburg", "Jozi", or "Egoli" by the locals, the city today is brimming with wealth and commerce, comprised of a modern skyline brimming with towering, high-rise skyscrapers. However, one might be surprised to learn that Johannesburg was not always this way and for a good portion of its history, it has actually been quite the opposite. For many decades, the city went through serious social, economic, and political turmoil and underdevelopment. Ironically though, the city of Johannesburg itself was formed by a gold rush in the 19th century, October 4th 1886 to be exact.

Johannesburg skyline south africa

Johannesburg sits on the edge of the world’s largest known gold deposit – in the Witwatersrand Basin, once the site of a massive inland sea. In 1886, Australian prospector George Harrison discovered gold in this particular area, spurring a gold rush. The tent camp became a magnet for wealth-hungry individuals who made their way to the mining base region, in hopes of digging up gold and making their own fortune. As a result, within three years, the place became the largest settlement in South Africa.

And how did this massive gold deposit in the Witwatersrand Basin come to be in the first place?

Two billion years ago, a giant meteor struck the earth at Vredefort, about 120km south-west of Johannesburg. The impact – the oldest and largest visible crater site in the world – buried the Witwatersrand gold deposits up to several kilometres deep, protecting the gold from erosion and making for the deepest-level goldmines in the world.

Vredefort crater Gold mine Johannesburg

Most of the gold mines in the city ceased operation in the 1970s, but in its day the Witwatersrand gold industry accounted for more than 40% of the world’s annual gold production. Remnants of the industry—rusting headgear, towering yellow-white mine dumps, copses of dusty Australian bluegum trees imported for underground timbering—can still be seen in the landscape today.

Vredefort crater Gold mine Johannesburg

Although the gold mining industry has died down in recent times, the initial gold rush created one of the fastest-growing and youngest cities in the world and has led to an urban growth in which Johannesburg can continue to look forward to with the years to come.