British Museum, London

4.5 out of 5 stars 4.5 Stars - 295 Reviews

Great Russell Street, WC1 +00 44 (0)20 7323 8299

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  • breughel's Profile Photo

    Parthenon Sculptures - questionable perspective?

    by breughel Updated Apr 8, 2014

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    Parthenon frieze at real height.
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    The Parthenon Sculptures in room 18, the largest of the museum, are certainly the best known highlights of the British Museum.
    In another comment I expressed my position about the controversy by the Greek government concerning the Elgin Marbles. I'm definitively in favour of a status quo and this is my position for all museums. It would be a non sense to move all artefacts back to their country of origin.

    Nevertheless on each of my visits, I found the display of the sculptures in the Duveen Gallery questionable because the original perspective is ignored.
    The friezes, metopes and pediment came from the upper part of the Parthenon. The Doric columns are 10 m high so that the sculptures above them stood at a height of about 12 m as you can see from the figure on my photo n°2.
    The perspective was therefore quite different from the present display in room 18 at eye-level (photos 1 & 3). The Duveen Gallery is high and wide enough to recreate a perspective closer to the original one of the Parthenon.

    In the next room 17 is a reconstruction of one of the sides of the Nereid monument, the largest and finest of the Lykian tombs found at Xanthos in south-west Turkey.
    This reconstruction of the Nereid monument shows how the perspective of the display of the Parthenon sculptures could be improved.

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    British Museum

    by SallyM Updated Apr 6, 2014

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    The Great Court
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    The British Museum is my favourite museum - and it's even free! Despite the name, it's not a museum about Britain - its collections are worldwide. It is the oldest public museum in the world, having been founded in 1753, after the naturalist and collector Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed his collections to the nation. The 'Enlightenment Gallery' gives visitors an idea of what an 18th century museum would have been like.

    It's not a good idea to try to see it all in one go. It's better either to head for the galleries that interest you most (Egyptian Sculpture is my favourite) or to aim to see some key 'treasures' such as the Parthenon frieze and the Sutton Hoo helmet. (On 27 March 2014 the Sutton Hoo helmet became the centrepiece of a new Gallery of Early Medieval Europe in room 41 on the ground floor of the Museum).

    The Great Court was opened up and roofed with glass to celebrate the millennium and now forms the hub of the museum.

    There are two snack bars, a cafeteria and a restaurant (with views over the Great Court) in the museum. The quality is good, but they are quite pricey. If money is tight, it is better to look for a pub or cafe nearby. Though if you are after a traditional afternoon tea with sandwiches, scones and cream, the Court restaurant does a good version, with a choice of speciality teas for £13 a head.

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    A cultural crowd-puller.

    by breughel Updated Apr 2, 2014

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    Schools do like the British Museum.
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    My first visit goes back to the early sixties so that I have seen on my successive visits a fantastic transformation from a somewhat dusty, old fashion, museum to the present outstanding museological achievement with the Great Court.
    The success of the British Museum, with 6,7 million visitors in 2013, is certainly due to the quality of its collections, of which about 50.000 items are shown over 75.000 m2 with a number of world highlights and also disputed items like the Parthenon marbles, which do attract a range of visitors interested by this controversy.

    Furthermore, and not without importance, the entry is free; I have never seen queues as there is no ticket or security check. If at the opening there are people waiting at the main entrance Russell Street, there is a second entrance on the back at Montague Place.
    What is also great is the fact that on the contrary of several London museums, a.o. National Gallery, taking photos is allowed here.

    The facilities are convenient and there are enough lifts for less young legs like mine.
    One thing I don't like are the two "court cafés" behind the "Reading Room" of the Great Court; makes me think of factory canteens. Better is the Gallery Café near the Ancient Greece rooms (11 & 12) on the Ground floor. If you have money you can go to the chic Court restaurant at level 3 (is currently undergoing a refurbishment).
    Actually outside around the museum there are lot of places to eat and drink.

    On my visit begin of July the crowd was huge, especially in the Egyptian sculpture halls on the Ground floor (rooms n° 4). Schools had transformed this part of the museum in a play ground. As long as Ramesses the Great does not complain about the noise …

    Open daily 10.00 - 17.30 h. Selected galleries are open until 20.30 h on Fridays.
    Closed 1 January, Good Friday and 24, 25 & 26 December.

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    My friend Bastet.

    by breughel Updated Apr 2, 2014

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    Cat mummies.
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    It is well known that animals were associated with deities. The ancient Egyptians believed that their gods and goddesses could appear on earth under the form of animals.
    The ibis was associated with Thoth, the hawk or falcon with Horus and cats with the goddess Bastet whose cult centre was at Bubastis in the Nile Delta.
    I always liked the fact that Egyptians not only found cats a very useful company animal but associated their pet with the protective benevolent goddess Bastet, while in our middle ages cats were often associated with the devil!

    The museum has a remarkable and elaborately wrapped cat mummy from Abydos dating from the 1st c. AD.
    I was surprised to read from the documentation of the British museum that many of these cats did not die a natural death but that kittens were raised and killed for mummification. These cat mummies were sold to the visitors and left at the temple catacombs as offerings.

    Later, cat cemeteries were plundered and there were so many that it is know that at the end of the 19th c. about 15000 kg of cat mummies were shipped from Egypt to the UK to be pulverized and processed into fertiliser!

    The Museum is open daily, 10.00–17.30 h, Fridays 20.30 h
    Closed on 1/01, Good Friday, 24, 25 & 26/12.
    Free.

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    Enlightenment Gallery.

    by breughel Updated Apr 2, 2014

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    Enlightenment Gallery.

    It was my first visit to this magnificent former library of King George III located on the right side of the Great Court. The books from the King's Library are now at the British Library at St Pancras. The books you see on the shelves are from the House of Commons.

    I liked it because I was always a fan and user of libraries (before the time of computers) and because this large room nr 1 on the Ground floor shows thousands objects demonstrating how people in Britain understood their world during the period of Enlightenment.
    Objects on display reveal the way in which collectors, antiquaries and travellers during this great age of discovery viewed and classified objects from the world around them.

    The Enlightenment was an age of reason and learning that flourished across Europe and America from about 1680 to 1820.
    What makes me feel sad is the fact that Enlightenment has now to be confined to a museum gallery and is no more the usual way of thinking.

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    A great museum

    by toonsarah Updated Mar 29, 2014

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    British Museum
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    Update March 2014: new website added and small edits to text

    You could spend a day here and still come away wishing you had seen more! Despite the name, this isn’t a museum about Britain – the collections include artefacts from all over the world (including controversially some that people feel should have stayed where they were, such as the Elgin Marbles from the Acropolis), and span 2 million years of history.

    Some highlights:
    ~ From Ancient Egypt (one of my favourite collections): statuary & decorated architecture, inscribed with hieroglyphs; coffins & mummies of individuals; furniture, fine jewellery & other burial goods.
    ~ From Imperial China: calligraphy, paintings & ceramics
    ~ From Anglo-Saxon: one of the most impressive collections, the treasures from the ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.
    ~ From the Aztecs: stone & ceramic sculptures; musical instruments such as drums, decorated with intricate carvings; rare turquoise mosaics.
    ~ From Iron Age Britain: one of the items that has fascinated me since I first saw it, Lindow Man. This is the body of a man discovered in August 1984 when workmen were cutting peat at Lindow Moss bog in NW England. The conditions in the peat bog meant that the man’s skin, hair and many of his internal organs are well preserved, and scientists have been able to do lots of research to learn about his life and death, concluding that he was probably the victim of a ritual sacrifice by druids.

    Do open up my 2nd photo to see a view of the museum few people will get – the stunning green glass roof photographed from above. This is part of the wonderful view I used to enjoy from my office window at one time in my working life.

    Admission is free, as it is to all the major museums in London, although there is usually a charge for the special exhibitions which are invariably excellent. Open every day 10.00-17.30, and until 20.30 on Fridays.

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    "Ginger Mummy"

    by breughel Updated Dec 7, 2013

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    British museum -
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    On my first visit to the British Museum it was a shock to discover the body of this man who died in the "Late Predynastic period" around 3400 BC.
    The body of this Predynastic Egyptian man, probably from Gebelein, was placed, in a contracted position, in a desert grave in direct contact with the dry sand.

    It is therefore not a mummy in the sense of the Egyptian mummies who, starting around 2700 BC, underwent the elaborate mummification process. Here it was the desiccation and absence of bacteria which preserved remarkably well the body, the nails and also the somewhat red hair. It is due the colour of the hair that the name of "ginger mummy" is used. The mummy is surrounded by burial goods, tools, as well as pottery once filled with food for his afterlife.

    The body is on display since 1900 in a reconstructed Egyptian grave-pit.
    In the mid-eighties a treatment has been applied to the mummy because in some areas the skin was cracked and lifting away from the underlying bone and tissue.
    It goes without saying that the body is checked and monitored regularly.

    Ginger mummy in Room 64 is probably the most photographed item in the museum (photo 3).

    Interesting in the same room is a basket coffin from the 1st Dynasty showing a mistake of the beginning artificial mummification. The body probable rotted by the moisture trapped in the basket; only bones are left (photo 2).

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    Ancient Egypt.

    by breughel Updated Dec 7, 2013

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    Ancient Egypt - Mummy.

    From the crowds met on the Ground floor (rooms 4) with the Egyptian sculptures and at Level 3 with galleries 61 - 66 mainly dedicated to life, death, afterlife in ancient Egypt and Nubia, this department is certainly the most visited of all the British Museum.
    It is the second world's largest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, but only 4% of its Egyptian holdings are on display; what is a pitty I think.

    Best known is certainly the Rosetta Stone, on public display at the British Museum since 1802, which contributed greatly to the deciphering of the principles of hieroglyph writing in 1822 by the British scientist Thomas Young and the French scholar Jean-François Champollion credited as the principal translator.
    The dispute which arose over the fate of French archaeological and scientific discoveries in Egypt after the surrender of the French troops in Egypt in 1801 is captivating for those who like to know how the British Museum and Le Louvre built up their Egyptian collections.

    The Rosetta stone arrived in the British museum more than two centuries ago but Mr. Zahi Hawass, former chief of the Antiquities in Cairo, was aggressively claiming its return to Egypt!
    It is not the only artifact claimed by Mr. Hawass; there are some thousand objects he wants to get back including the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin. It sounds a bit strange knowing that the Egyptian museums have already no room to display thousands and thousands antic objects (security was a new problem as seen on 28/01/2011).

    Much crowded by visitors are rooms 62-63 at Level 3. Here is on display a selection of the 140 mummies and coffins which make of the British Museum the largest collection outside Cairo.
    Best known is the "Ginger mummy" in Room 64 (ref. my tip).

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    British Museum

    by Jim_Eliason Updated Dec 6, 2013

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    British Museum
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    If it's not in the Louvre chances are its here. Some of the most famous historical items in the world are at this museum: the Rosetta stone, the lewis chessmen and a great collection of Assyrian and Sumerian items

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    Sutton Hoo helmet

    by egonwegh Updated Jul 24, 2013
    London, British Museum, Sutton Hoo helmet

    The Sutton Hoo helmet, another famous artefact that I had wanted to see for a long time (from about late 1970s onwards). I believe there's a picture of it in the first volume of the Oxford Anthology of English Literature, that originally put me on the trail of this helmet. To be found at the British Museum.

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    British Museum

    by Kuznetsov_Sergey Written Jun 22, 2013

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    British Museum
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    The British Museum is the world famous museum dedicated to human history and culture. It was established in 1753.
    Its permanent collection, numbering some eight million works, is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.
    We spent there the second half of our first day in London.

    You can watch my 4 min 54 sec Video London British Museum out of my Youtube channel or here on VT.

    Free, open daily 10.00–17.30
    Fridays until 20.30
    Extended hours.
    Getting there.

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    British Museum

    by Dabs Updated Jun 18, 2013

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    Last visit June 2013

    It's impossible to see all of the British Museum in a day and at some point during the day you'd probably be suffering from museum overload anyway. Fortunately it's free to visit every day so you can visit for a couple of hours at a time or if you are a frequent visitor to London, you can see a different part every time you visit London.

    The museum guide has a list of highlights if your time is short and include the Rosetta Stone in the Egyptian Room, the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens (a controversial exhibit due to ownership issues and don't seem to be referred to as the Elgin Marbles anymore) and the Lewis chessmen. If your time is short or you want to visit the highlights of the museum, you might consider taking the 90 minute highlight tour for an additional fee or picking up one of the audio tours.

    There are free eye opener tours of specific galleries throughout the day, spotlight tours on Fridays and lunchtime gallery talks.

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    Eat your heart out Smithsonian!

    by etfromnc Updated Apr 17, 2013

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    Unreal; one of London’s top attractions, and absolutely free. I have been there several times but have not even scratched the surface of the millions of things to see, peek at the Rosetta Stone, and move on to Aztec mosaic masks or the head-smashed ‘Lindow Man’ (a 1st-century unfortunate found in a peat bog in 1984) and I found that I still had over seven million other items for subsequent visits. Watch for worthwhile 20- and 50-minute eyeOpener tours offered for free too.

    The mother (or should that be ‘mummy’?) of all museums, the British Museum is the world’s oldest national public museum and London’s top free attraction. Since opening in 1759 to "all curious and studious persons," people have come to view the unrivalled collections of antiquities from Egypt, Greece, Rome, Britain, and everywhere else imaginable.

    With over seven million objects it’s impossible to see everything on one visit so either pick one or two civilizations and spend an hour or two exploring their cultures in depth, or head straight for the highlights – the Rosetta Stone (the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics), the Parthenon Sculptures (controversially brought to Britain from Athens in the early 19th century), and, of course, the mummies. From how until September, the exhibition Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum will showcase objects from the city famously buried by a volcano in 79 AD.

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    Controversy about the Parthenon marbles.

    by breughel Updated Mar 10, 2013

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    British Museum - Caryatid.
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    The controversy started at the time of Melina Mercouri and increased in such way that the British Museum feels now obliged to put leaflets in the Parthenon room (n° 18) as justification of keeping the Elgin marbles.
    The British Museum's position is the following:
    "The Parthenon sculptures are integral to the Museum's purpose as a world museum telling the story of human cultural achievement…
    The current division of the surviving sculptures in eight countries … allows different and complementary stories to be told about them, focussing respectively on their importance for the history of Athens and Greece, and their significance for world culture."

    I think the British Museum is right but for more general reasons:
    1° Museums worldwide have protected artefacts from destruction.
    Just an example about Athens: in the seventies, I have seen four of the original Caryatides on the Acropolis. They were so corroded by the air pollution that they had to be put inside a museum and replaced by copies.
    In the British Museum, room 19, there is one Caryatid in a much better state than those of Athens. What would be the condition of the Elgin marbles if left in Athens?

    2° Museums gave the opportunity and still give the opportunity to millions of people, who had/have not the means to travel to Greece or Egypt, to see, close to their home, artefacts of past civilisations. Without museums such as the British Museum ancient cultures would still be ignored by most people.

    3° These controversies hide economical interests linked to tourism. A number of countries on the southern border of the Mediterranean Sea - I do not include Greece among them - show interest for their past civilisations only since tourists want to spent money to visit them.

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    British Museum

    by Balam Written Mar 5, 2013

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    You can easily spend all day if not 2 days walking around the British Museum, there are shops that sell food but a sandwich was about £4 so cheaper to go out for lunch and then come back in. Entrance is free!

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