A short boat ride out into the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Town, just over five square kilometres (2 sq. miles) in size, sandy Robben Island (robben being Afrikaans for seal) was always remote and largely uninhabited (except at one point for a whaling station) - which made it a perfect site for a penal colony (and at another point, also a lepers colony and quarantine station). And so it was used, by the founding Dutch colonisers, the subsequent British, and in the 20th century, the minority-white governments of South Africa.


And it was this last régime that routinely jailed many activists battling the brutal, racist apartheid system of the latter part of the 20th century - most famously Nelson Mandela, who arrived here in 1964 to serve 18 long years in a dreary cell and compelled to do hard labour breaking rocks. And since the advent of democracy to the "Rainbow Nation", that prison and that cell - now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - have become musts for visitors to the country's beautiful Queen City.

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