Queen Street Mosque
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The Pretoria mosque, built in 1928, stands where an older wood and iron structure (c 1898-1902) once stood. The common, but unconfirmed, wisdom is that it is the design of a Cape Muslim of Iranian extraction who used photographs and sketches of an Indian equivalent as a source of inspiration. It is oriented away from the street to satisfy the requirements of qiblah. Today it is walled in by tall buildings, so it stands in an opening isolated and unseen from the street.
The area of worship is a simple square. The minaret stands outside the southern corner across the junction of passages, thereby forming a diagonal which generates a second square. The treatment of the main space is simply by way of plastered mouldings between pilasters and arches over windows, similar to those of the Kerk Street mosque, Johannesburg. Decoration is restricted to a light balustrade of prefabricated concrete at parapet level. The pilasters transcend the balustrade and are topped by turban finials crowned with star and crescent. Above all this rises the fake onion dome placed on the roof structure.
The surround to the mihrab, built minbar, pilasters, heavy cornice and pressed steel ceiling constitute the decoration of the interior and complement the late Victorian phase of the architecture of Pretoria, which immediately took on Deco trappings as witnessed by the Libri Building (1935) on an adjacent stand. The design of the leaded glass windows harks between Art Nouveau and Art Deco, and as such is equally appropriate to a church, synagogue or dwelling of the period.
It is the minaret and enfolding ambulatory which are evocative of an Indian desire, so that having entered the complex this allusion persists in the memory. The multifoil cusped mouldings of the verandah arches reinforce the impression. In appearance and spirit the striving is for the character of the Divan-i Khas in Fathepur Sikri. While the symmetry of the Indian precedent is absent, at the entrance a symmetry can be read from the corner, with the minaret as focal point.
In principle the minaret cannot be distinguished from contemporary South African bell towers (for example those of the city halls of Durban or Cape Town), but in detail — ogee arch, corner finials, onion dome and fragmentation into a lightness of appearance — it is Indian and negates the classicisms of the larger city halls. The three decorative corner minarets are virtual replicas of those of the Juma Masgiedand in all but their positioning refer to forebears in Champanir(C15), Bijapur(C16-17), places Ahmedabad or Hyderabad in the Deccan (C16). The entirety is white-washed to a simplified whole.
The Pretoria mosque is the last of the large Indian mosques built in the country, although the desire, at far smaller scale in Ermelo and Delmas in the eastern Transvaal, manifests in those mosques built in the thirties and forties in Lydenburg and Zeerust. The oral history of this building emphasises the importance of the Pretoria mosque as precedent. According to one of the present trustees, M Tikly, a local contractor, Mr JM Koekemoer, appointed to build the Zeerust mosque, was first sent to Pretoria by the then trustees to examine the mosque in Queen Street, which then served as model.
All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.
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