I pretend that any visit to a museum is for the benefit of my girls of course, but obviously that is very much a straight up lie – It is for me. Pretty much always. Case in point, I really really wanted to see what the Iziko South African Museum, the national museum of South Africa, looks like nowadays. So off on a family outing we went.
Actually, given its location at the top of the Company’s Garden in Cape Town (where it has been located since 1897), a trip to the Iziko South African Museum always makes for a good family outing. You have the greenery, squirrels and nice eatery that comes with the Company’s Garden, the splendour of the various statues and memorials dotted about, the entertainment value that comes from a viewing at the now very impressive planetarium, and of course the wonder of the museum itself.
Founded by Lord Charles Somerset in 1825, the South African Museum started out as a general museum but later moved its focus to almost purely that of natural history, with a notion that very little divides the animal world from the human subjects it documents. In other words, there is a reason that there is relatively so little cultural history and material culture on display, despite this being a national museum!
The museum is organized on four levels, hosting a variety of exhibitions, from rock art to fossils, marine animals and meteorites. The ground level is home to “People past to present”, looking at aspects Southern African tribal history, “Karoo Fossils”, examining ancient dinosaur-like life in the Karoo region 250 million years ago, “World of Water”, depicting life in South Africa’s oceans, “Southern Oceans”, detailing animal life in the Subantarctic region, and the “Whale Well”, which features a unique collection of whale casts and skeletons – including a 20.5 meter long suspended blue whale skeleton that can be viewed from all floors.
(If there is one thing that I CAN remember as a kid going on all the museum bound school excursions, then it is most definitely that huge whale skeleton!)
Level 1 is home to “Sharkworld”, showcasing sharks, skates, rays and chimeras, “Our Place in the Universe”, a display depicting a cosmic zoom to view the universe on an ever-increasing scale, reaching back to almost the very beginning of the universe, “Meteorites”, three large iron meteorites, and of course the fantastic “Iziko Planetarium” (which I now really want to return to in order to watch an actual adult space themed feature following our viewing of the kiddy friendly “Tycho to the Moon”).
Level 2 showcases “Mammals”, “Birds”, “Wonders of Nature”, as well as the “History of the SA Museum”. It also houses a section entitled “Indigenous Knowledge”, which is a window on indigenous ways of using natural resources. Finally, level 3 is home to the “Stone Bones of the ancient Karoo” and focuses on the 250 million year old fossils from the Karoo. In other words, dinosaurs!
The museum is neat and tidy, the displays well looked after, the layouts great, and honestly put, I rather enjoyed the time strolling about. That said, the girls didn’t last very long before the “ugh, my legs are tired” moaning began, meaning that inevitably the visit was cut shorter than what it needed to be, ending with a grumpy dad stomping along in tow.
Next time I am going to lose the girls in the gardens with the squirrels I think.
P.S. That photo in the gallery above of Jessica running towards me? That’s her rushing over to tell me that a flock of the garden’s famous pigeons had just flown overhead and one of them had pooed on her leg! Extremely amusing and in the end, nothing that a bite to eat and some play time over at Deer Park Cafe couldn’t fix…