Besides botanists, few people enter Compton Herbarium in Cape Town. In the climate-controlled space with a background hum, more than 850,000 specimens from the Greater Cape Floristic Region lie neatly ordered in sealed cupboards. It is a treasure trove of irreplaceable specimens and floral knowledge and fascinating in its complexity; but without expert insight, largely inaccessible to nonscientists. Meanwhile, in Durban, a restricted military area on the Bluff basks in near silence, gun battlements that date back to the Second World War slowly corroding in the humid air. The area has been out of the public eye since a whaling station based there closed in 1975. These intriguing places have recently been chosen as sites for public tours and walks. The events were organised by very different organisations, but both were designed to give curious locals a behind-the-scenes peek at lesser-known urban spaces. The appeal may be part of a wider shift to what the Guardian has described as th...

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