Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Prestor John

Across the road from the Feather Market Hall, between the City Hall and the Old Post Office in Port Elizabeth is an amazing statue dedicated to the seafarers who searched for Prester John between 1145 and 1645.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, Prester John was believed to be the ruler of a vast and powerful empire in the interior of Asia. From the 14th to the 16th century, he was believed to be the king of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in northeast Africa.

In 1165 a letter supposedly written by Prester John, describing his country as a land of natural riches, marvels, peace and justice was given to the Byzantine emperor and to the Holy Roman emperor Frederick Barbarossa. It told of a magical kingdom in the East that was in danger of being overrun by infidels and barbarians.

Thus began the quest for the wealth of Prester John.

It was his reputation that helped drive explorers to find the sea route to India. King John II of Portugal specifically instructed the expeditions of his time to discover this fabulous kingdom. The legend endured until the 18th century and died after the Scottish explorer James Bruce had travelled through Ethiopia.
The legend of Prester John profoundly affected the geographical knowledge of Europe by stimulating interest in foreign lands and sparking expeditions outside of Europe, which is what this statue is all about.


  1. How fascinating - and to think I lived in PE for most of my life and knew of the monument but never knew what it was all about. I've always said we (Suoth Africa in general, not just PE) underestimate how rich and varied our heritage is - beyond the whole spectre of colonialism there are so many qurky stories and monuments like this.

  2. People should read this.