Cape Town has a rich, often turbulent history. The city was the centre of European colonisation, and boasts a melting pot of cultures brought about by the slave trade. It has endured naval battles around its shores, survived Apartheid and eventually, became a massive part in the birth of South Africa’s young democracy. The city has an abundance of museums and memorials remembering its past.
Here’s a look at some of the best places to peer into Cape Town’s history.
Iziko South African Museum
Situated at the top of the Company’s Garden and just around the corner from buzzing Long Street, the Iziko South African Museum plays host to more than a million artefacts, items and specimens dating back to more than a 100,000 years ago, as well as depictions of dinosaurs that once ruled the South African plains.
District Six Museum
During the Apartheid years, the residents of District Six on the edge of the city centre, were forcibly removed by the government. The empty streets and plots are still visible today, and in 1994 the District Six Museum was established to honour this displaced community, and offer a glimpse into their lives.
Sitting among the colourful houses and cobbled streets of historical Bo-Kaap (upper Cape), the Bo-Kaap museum honours the local Islamic culture and heritage that dates back to the times of slavery.
Castle of Good Hope
In 1652 the first Europeans landed on the shores of South Africa with the intention to establish a supply depot for ships of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) – a fort was erected in 1666 and by 1679 it had turned into the Castle of Good Hope as it stands today. It’s the oldest surviving building of South Africa’s colonial era and one of the most popular.
Situated in South Africa’s main naval port of Simonstown, the South African Naval Museum pays homage to the country’s naval history. It also includes glimpses into modern naval operations with models of submarines, a life-size submarine control room, naval guns, torpedoes and more.
One of South Africa’s most famous historical landmarks is Robben Island, located in Table Bay, just west of the city. During the Apartheid years the prison on the island was home to many prominent political prisoners, including its most famous former resident, Nelson Mandela, who served 18 of his 27 year sentence here. In 1997 a museum was established to commemorate the struggle that political prisoners had to endure on the island.
Situated just north of South Africa’s Parliament Building complex, The Slave Lodge is one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town. Through the years it has been the site of slave accommodation, Government offices and even South Africa’s Supreme Court. However, in 1998 the building was renamed to Slave Lodge and presents a glimpse into South Africa’s long history of slavery, as well as creating awareness of current issues surrounding human rights.
South African Jewish Museum
One of Cape Town’s architectural gems, and just up the road from Parliament, the South African Jewish Museum takes an interactive look back at the history of South Africa’s Jewish community, as well remembering the Holocaust.
Heart Transplant Museum – Heart of Cape Town Museum
In 1967 Professor Christiaan Barnard successfully performed the world’s first successful heart transplant. Situated in Groote Schuur Hospital, the site of this historic event, the Heart Transplant Museum pays tribute to Prof. Barnard and his team, as well as the process involved.
For jewellery buffs, the Diamond Museum at the V&A Waterfront explores the three billion year journey it takes to form these coveted rocks and the processes that turn them into these sought-after gems.
The Springbok Experience
As the birthplace of one of South Africa’s most beloved sports, The Springbok Experience pays homage to the history of rugby in South Africa. Through an interactive exhibit, visitors can peer into rugby’s past from the 1860s to the present day, including many significant rugby artefacts like the boots Joel Stransky wore when he slotted his his iconic, Rugby World Cup-winning, drop goal.