Robben Island, lying off the coast of Cape Town, is part of a long list of islands known primarily for being prisons. But, unlike Rikers and Alcatraz, its history has seen it go from being a leper colony, to a thriving 19th century ‘town’ complete with a school and post office, to a notorious penitentiary, and now a must-see travel destination studded with historical buildings and home to a flock of adorable but highly endangered African penguins.
The Company’s Gardens date back to the 1600s and are the raison d’etre for Cape Town. Looking for a way to the East Indies - the source of spices, silks, tea and porcelain for Europe - the Dutch East India Company chose a route around the tip of Africa. The journey took months and sailors were at severe risk of scurvy from a lack of fresh produce. So the Company sent some employees to the Cape of Storms and told them to start a vegetable patch. More than three centuries later, that ‘vegetable patch’ is now a green lung in a cosmopolitan city that bustles with workers, sightseers, squirrels and hadedahs (what South Africans call sacred ibises). Easily walkable in a morning or an afternoon, there is plenty to see and do in and around the Company’s Gardens.
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