The British Museum

One of the largest and oldest purpose-built museums in the world, The British Museum is also one of the finest and easiest to visit. Founded in 1753, by an Act of Parliament, it was the first museum of its type in the world. Belonging to the Nation rather than the Church or the King, the museum was to be free to people from all walks of life. Its collection was to contain the nation’s most treasured books, as well as curios and other artefacts of historical, cultural and scientific importance, for all to see for free. A standard is has never stepped away from, the Museum is still free today for all those who wish to visit.

The Museum’s massive collection eventually grew so large two more institutions had to be created to house it all. Firstly the Natural History collection was moved to ‘The Natural History Museum’ in South Kensington in 1881 and then the nation’s books were moved to the purpose built ‘British Library’, by Kings Cross Station, in 1998. Until the 20th Century, the British Museum was the only museum to be both a National Museum and a National Library. When the books were finally removed, it freed up a massive amount of space and allowed for the creation of The Great Court that you can see today. The Great Court is the courtyard of the museum, today a vast clean and open space with a great glass roof keeping out the elements but allowing in the light. A place to eat, shop, meet people and as a thoroughfare to explore the museum. At its heart is the last remnant of the British Museum’s days as the nations Library, the Reading Room. Built in 1857 it was in continual use until the British Library moved out in 1997, then, not quite knowing what to do with it, it was restored and its shelves stacked with books relevant to the museums collections and is open to the public. Currently, it is being used as a temporary exhibition space, a temporary floor has been installed over the original reading desks, it will be returned to its original state in 2012.

The British Museum is huge, it would take years to see everything as its entire collection is rarely on display, only a small percentage is visible to the public at any one time. Its most popular exhibits are also some of the most controversial, the Elgin Marbles are on display here. Taken (or stolen depending on who you ask) from the Parthenon in Athens, wrapped up in a carpet and shipped to England in the early 19th Century. These ancient sculptures have been on display at the Museum since 1816, and Greece would quite like them back. For the time being at least, these Ancient Wonders can be viewed here in London. The Museum is also home to the Rosetta Stone, this incredible artefact includes the same text written in both Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Greek. It was this stone that finally allowed modern scholars to read and understand Ancient Egyptian, a previously indecipherable language. Part of its Ancient Egyptian Collection (the largest outside of Cairo), Egypt would like the Rosetta Stone returned to them. For the time being, the Rosetta Stone and the displays of Ancient Egyptian mummies remain the most popular exhibits at the British Museum.

There is plenty more to see at the British Museum, in addition to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, the Museum also has collections from the Middle East, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. Not to mention collections concerning the British Isles, Europe and Pre-History. Situated in beautiful galleries, wandering around the British Museums is a real pleasure as well as a learning experience. Rarely considered to be overwhelming, visiting the museum can actually be a calming experience! Outside of the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian Exhibits, it is rare that one experiences great crowds even though the Museum is one of the most popular in the world. Maps are available on arrival, or online, so you can make the most out of your day.

The museum is only 300 meters from Tottenham Court Road tube station, and signposts will clearly show you the way. Open every day from 10am to 5.30pm, entrance is free for all (no need for tickets), the only exception is for the special exhibitions for which you can pay at dedicated desk or online in advance. If an exhibition is particularly popular, the museum will stay open longer to ensure the maximum number of people can see. Special exhibition tickets rarely exceed £15, and discounts are available for retirees, students, and children. Tours are available free of charge, just ask at the information desk in the Great Court.

Speak Your Mind