6 must-see museums in Cape Town

The Iziko Museums are a cluster of 12 museums that preserve Cape Town’s history and culture. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you can expect to find in half of them.

1. The South African Museum: The first museum in the country, the South African Museum was founded in 1825 and moved to its current location in the Company’s Garden (central Cape Town) in 1897. Home to more than 1.5 million specimens — including fossils from over 700 million years ago — the museum houses important African zoological, palaeontological and archaeological collections. And there’s a cool Planetarium.

2. The South African National Gallery: Also situated in the Company’s Garden, this gallery features collections of South African, African, British, French, Dutch and Flemish art. On permanent display you’ll find a collection of 400 paintings, drawings and prints that were bequeathed to the gallery by diamond tycoon Sir Abe Bailey.

3. The Social History Centre: Housed on Church Square in the National Mutual Building, which was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and Francis Masey, the museum houses collections of artefacts from the colonial period in the Cape, indigenous cultural material from southern Africa and collections of ceramics, furniture, coins and textiles from around the world. It is also home to the Social History Library — a reference library that focuses on the history and people of southern Africa and, more specifically, the Western Cape.

4. The Bo-Kaap Museum: Many Muslims and freed slaves settled in the Bo-Kaap, the area directly above the city bowl, after the abolition of slavery. The Bo-Kaap Museum, which is situated in this colourful suburb of Cape Town, pays tribute to the role that the residents of this area played in the history of Cape Town. Established in 1978, the museum was originally furnished to portray the lifestyle of a 19th century Muslim family. However, it is currently being transformed so that it can better tell the history of the community. Permanent exhibitions look at the history of the Bo-Kaap, the role that the community played in building Cape Town and the tradition of the city’s New Year Carnival.

5. Groot Constantia Manor House: Built in 1685 on land granted to Simon van der Stel (first governor of the Dutch Cape colony), Groot Constantia is one of the oldest wine farms in South Africa. It’s located in the leafy suburb of Constantia, a short drive from the city centre. The manor house museum depicts life as it has been at the estate over the past 350 years. Exhibits include old carriages in the Coach House, wine storage and drinking vessels in the historical wine cellar and a collection of furniture, textiles, ceramics and copperware in the manor house.

6. Koopmans-De Wet House: The first private townhouse in South Africa to be opened to the public, the Koopmans-De Wet house (on Strand Street in the centre of Cape Town) opened its doors as a museum in 1914 after the deaths of its last private owners, Marie Koopmans-De Wet and her sister Margaritha. The museum attracted nearly 17 000 visitors in the first year it was open! This house museum depicts how wealthy white people lived in the Cape in the 19th century.

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