Lydenburg is an important centre for farming and for mining. Along with Dullstroom, it can be used as a stop-over point on the way to the Lowveld and the Kruger National Park.
It is also home to one of Mpumalanga's best museums detailing the mysterious history of the famed Lydenburg Heads, which are unique pottery masks made by a vanished people thousands of years ago and believed to have served a ritual or religious purpose. The Lydenburg Heads are one of the earliest known forms of African sculpture in southern Africa and are dated at between AD500 and AD800. There are seven hollow terracotta sculptures which are named after the site at which they were discovered in the late 1950s.
Replicas of the seven terracotta 'Lydenburg heads' found in the valley of the Sterkspruit and dating to the 5th century are to be found at the local museum. Six of the heads are human and the seventh is some kind of animal replica. It is believed that they were used as ceremonial objects during the performance of initiation ritual.
- Discover the story of the "Lydenburg Heads"
- Go fly-fishing in Lydenburg and the surrounding area
Lydenburg was founded in 1849 by a group of Voortrekkers under the leadership of Andries Potgieter when they abandoned their previous settlement Ohrigstad (to the north) due to a malaria epidemic. The town became the capital of the Lydenburg Republic ('De Republiek Lydenburg in Zuid Afrika') in 1856 and later, in 1857, joined the Republic of Utrecht but in 1860 both these republics joined the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek (ZAR).The town became the capital of the Lydenburg District of the South African Republic (ZAR). The name is derived from the Dutch Lijdenburg, or "Town of Suffering".
Lydenburg became important because it was on the wagon route to the port of Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay) which was free of British control. In 1871 construction of the road was started by Abraham Espag under the orders of President Thomas François Burgers. The first wagons arrived in Lydenburg from Delagoa Bay in 1874.
On 6 February 1873 alluvial gold was discovered and within three months the Lydenburg goldfields were proclaimed. The First Boer War broke out between Britain and the Transvaal Republic in 1880. A British garrison under Lieutenant Walter Hillyar Colquhoun Long took control of Lydenburg in order to control the goldfields. It was from here that the ill-fated 94th Regiment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Robert Anstruther marched to Pretoria. The remainder of the garrison at Lydenburg was besieged from 6 January 1881, following Long's refusal to surrender the garrison on 23 December 1880.
By 1910 the railway reached Lydenburg and in 1927 Lydenburg became a municipality.