Human Rights Day just passed (21 March) and I realised for the first time this year that entry to most of the Iziko Museums is free on this day and other similar days (like Heritage Day on 24 September). Now if that isn’t the perfect excuse for someone who lives in Gardens to pay a visit to The National Gallery and the South African Museum, then surely there isn’t one.
Both of these monumental structures are situated in the Company’s Gardens. Well, officially it’s in the bigger gardened area next to the actual gardens, but it’s still part of the greater park. A beautiful stroll down Government Avenue brings you toboth of these buildings and also the Planetarium – yet another place too seldom visited by most locals.
I’m sure that many are guilty of never really visiting these places, partly because they’ve always been there and they’ll be there for years to come, and partly because of the usual reason for not doing these types of things – we just don’t have time. But really, these galleries and museums host some truly noteworthy exhibits.
Just during March of 2012 the South African Museum hosted the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, and created a space that made any nature-lover forget where they were for at least an hour. The National Gallery, in return, hosted an exhibition called Windows on War – Russian posters 1941-1945, displaying original posters of propaganda/national messages as the war developed, cities got taken over and taken back, soldiers were praised and Hitler was shunned.
See what the current exhibitions at Iziko are.
Temporary exhibitions aside for a moment, the South African Museum constantly give you the chance to get lost in dinosaurs, ancient archeological findings and even an interactive digital theatre where you can see different views of our changing earth. It might not be London’s Natural History Museum, but it’s a pretty cool place to spend an afternoon – or even a lunch break – just to do something different for a change.
Now these are only the main museums you’ll find around the Company’s Gardens. If you’re planning to do the so-called ‘Museum Mile’, then you’ll be rewarded with an added tour of the city centre as they’re scattered all over town. Here’s a little list:
Bertram House – the last remaining example of the English Georgian-style red brick houses that you used to see a lot around Cape Town. Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street.
Bo-Kaap Museum – Showcasing local Islamic culture and heritage in the steep cobblestone streets with their colourful houses. 71 Wale Street, Bo-Kaap.
Groot Constantia Manor House – A farmhouse dating back to 1685 and situated on one of the oldest wine farms in the country. Groot Constantia Estate, Constantia.
Koopmans-De Wet House – The only classic house museum from the 18th century. 35 Strand Street, Cape Town.
Maritime Centre – Featuring an entire overview of Cape Town’s shipping history. Union-Castle House, Dock Road.
Michaelis Collection at the Old Town House – Housed in the former city hall, a world-renowned collection of Dutch art from the 17th Century. Old Town House, Greenmarket Square.
Rust en Vreugd – Former home of Willem Cornelis Boers from the VOC, now housing work of art on paper by William Fehr from 1965. 78 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town.
Slave Lodge – One of the oldest buildings in Cape Town and exploring the history of slavery here. Corner Adderley and Wale Streets.
Social History Centre– Renovated building housing the reserve of the Social History collections and archives. 17 Church Square, Cape Town.
It’s shockingly clear that Cape Town has a rather impressive collection of museums, most of which are actually hidden in the streets where we walk and work every day. Yet you don’t always realise that you’re passing by one of our national museums as you buy your sandwich or drive home.
How lovely is the fact that these historic structures are part of the city’s daily goings on? They ad yet another facet to this already infinitely entertaining city, the centre of which is actually quiet small compared to other major cities. How nice it is to know that there is another reason to visit Greenmarket Square besides having lunch or browsing the market. Or to go to the Bo-Kaap for not only beautiful photos, delicious food and a charming atmosphere, but also a place to learn about how it came to be this vibrant.
These museums, now easily grouped under the Iziko name, give us all something fresh to do on a public holiday. And not only that, it rewards you with a new kind of city tour while you’re at it.