Down the garden path … Cape Town Company Gardens
In the midst of Cape Town’s bustling CBD, abutting the Houses of Parliament and Tuynhuys (the President’s Cape Town residence), hides an oasis of greenery, the roots of which extend across the centuries to tap into our country’s history – though most locals simply think of the Company Gardens as a cool spot for an inner-city picnic.
Cape Town Company Gardens: Named for the Dutch East India Company, the gardens were established by Jan van Rieebeck in the 1650’s as a fresh produce garden for the purpose of re-victualling ships and providing Cape Town’s colonists with veggies. They have been luring visitors through their gates since their current incarnation as a botanical garden and public park in 1848. A wander around the Gardens’ limits will bring you into contact with sprawling lawns, fountains, fish ponds, a Japanese rose garden, an aviary, a sun dial and the country’s oldest cultivated pear tree, among other botanically and historically important plant-life.
Oh and squirrels. Whether you think they’re cute and cuddly, or rats in better outfits, prepare to encounter them. Many visitors enjoy feeding the Gardens’ permanent residents, which means it’s a fairly friendly, curious kind of critter you’ll see bounding about.
The Gardens also bear testament to South Africa’s history in the form of large statues scattered along the pathways, including one of historical colonist and capitalist Cecil John Rhodes, about whom South Africans are divided in feeling (some think he was an exploitative racist, others a national hero). There are also various monuments to South African heroism during WWI.
But it’s not just pretty plants and some big ol’ bronze guys you’ll find here. When you tire of sunlit wanderings in the lush park, head inside to the Iziko South African National Gallery. Considering the Gallery’s history began with a bequest of 45 paintings presented in 1871, its current outstanding collections of South African, African, British, Dutch, French and Flemish art are truly impressive.
Constantly changing temporary exhibitions keep things fresh and make it well worth a regular visit. Be sure to visit the Gallery Shop, which sells the best in traditional and contemporary South African craft, including basketry, ceramics and wire- and beadwork.
The Gardens also house the Iziko South African Museum, founded in 1897, which boasts a collection of one and a half million specimens of scientific value (although of course only a fraction of this number is on display). It might not have fancy interactive exhibits or moving parts, but a wander through the Museum’s hallowed halls leaves one with a greater understanding of the earth’s biological and cultural diversity, both past and present. (Open 10 am – 5 pm daily).
Earth too close to home for you? Pop next door to the Iziko Planetarium for what’s billed as ‘the ultimate armchair travel – a trip through the vast wonders of outer space, projected onto the domed auditorium in a recreation of the night sky. (Daily shows).
And of course, what would a tourist attraction in Cape Town be without somewhere to get something to eat? Do yourself a favour and go and enjoy warm, homemade apple pie under the eaves of towering old trees at the Company Gardens Tearoom.
Company Gardens Photographs – Click thumbnails to enlarge: