It’s difficult to distill the value of visiting the British Museum into a written explanation of some photographs. Let’s put it this way: you can go to Greece, or Iraq, or Syria, or Italy, and see the places where ancient works of art once stood, or you can go to the British Museum and view the ancient works of art themselves. Originally established in 1753 as the collection of Sir Sloane, it has stood on its current site since 1759. Its collection has grown to over eight million pieces and has examples of the cultures and creative energies of peoples from all seven continents. This wealth of items is largely due to the British colonial period, when the British Crown held territories across the world and its travelers, amongst the most intrepid of European expatriates, returned to the country with items they had purchased (or, occasionally, stolen) from distant lands. Over the years, portions of the collection have been split off to ensure that other institutions, such as the British Library and the British Natural History Museum, could be founded. The mission of the institution has also changed, from one that exhibited artifacts as curiosities, to a place of education and scholarship, aiming both to inform the public of the wider world and the cultures of other countries, and to provide a basis upon which researchers and scholars might conduct their investigations. The Museum is not without controversy, but it has sought to try to incorporate and address dissenting views, and has also taken a critical look at collections and the fascination with “the other.” The Museum has organized exhibits of modern British and North American cultural trends, seeking to establish links between and comparisons with other cultures, and continuous re-evaluates its presentation of artifacts, leading to new and impressive means of explaining its collection (such as the Islamic gallery).
Founded in an age of great discovery, and building its collection as the pre-eminent museum at the heart of the greatest empire the world has ever known, the British Museum is easily one of the best of its kind in the world. Permanent exhibits are world famous, and sometimes extremely controversial, taken as they were from countries either in the British Empire, or under British protectorate.
My personal favourite is the Rosetta Stone, the discovery of which finally allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics after years of failure. The incredible stone had the exact same text written on it in three languages of the region at that time: one well known, Greek, one obscure, Demotic, and one completely indecipherable: Hieroglyphics. With a phrase in that language now understood, the world of Ancient Egyptians opened up to historians.
The Rosetta Stone makes up just one small part of the enormous Egyptian collection. Then you have the Greek collection with the controversial Elgin Marbles, an exhibit that makes the Greeks so mad they built a museum for the Parthenon with a great empty space where the Elgin Marbles are to go if they are ever returned.
As well as exhibits from all over the empire, there's also an extensive local collection too, probably the most famous of which is the treasure of Sutton Hoo. This was one of the most incredible prehistoric discoveries, and the ceremonial helmet is a British icon recognizable by everyone. You can find that and much more in the British Museum.
And possibly the best thing of all about this museum: it's FREE.
My strategy has been to spend a few hours each time I visit British Museum, a habit started when I was a student in London.
and then plan the next visit depending upon your interest.
if you have just one hour: there are a few things to see which will wet your apetite. I have written a blog about it which you may wish to read:
It is a HUGE museum so dont expect to see everything or even a glimpse of everything.
My next visit:
another visit to the Persia Room; and see the Middle East Room (not Egypt since it deserves a special visit by itself)
The British Museum should interest anyone with even a slightest interests in anthropology or archeology. There is so much to see here that there is something that might perk the curiosity of anyone who walks through its doors. However I should warn you that the British Museum is a big rambling place that can be visited in just a few hours visit. The collections spans such a wide variety of cultures and topics that it can seem overwhelming. Highlights include the exhibits on the Ancient worlds of Egypt, Greece, Rome, Asia and the Americas. Knowing in advance that I could not possibly explore the whole museum in just the three hours that intended upon spending there, I instead concentrated upon the Egyptian, Greek and Roman collections. This means I was able to take in such notable pieces like the Rosetta Stone, Lord Elgin's Marbles, the huge collection of marbles and a wide variety of Ancient Roman artifacts. Sadly I did not take in any of the Asian cultures exhibits. Regretably so since I have developed an interest in Indian art in particular since my visit to the British Museum. It is also advisable to visit this museum with lots of energy. I did not as I had arrived in London from Toronto just 7 hours before my visit and was somewhat jetlagged.
During my second visit in 2010, I was much more energized and really enjoyed my visit. I was able to comfortably visit all of the galleries that I intended on when I set out touring the musuem. I still found the place to mind boggling. There is no way one can visit it all in one day and if you do what I did, chart in advance what your interests are and aim for them, you will enjoy yourself throughly. Oddly enough I ignored the exhibits featuring North American native peoples. I guess I can see all want of these here in Canada.
At the time of my first visit to the British Museum I had never visited a museum of this scope in my life. 21 years later, having journeyed through 30 countries and having visited countless museum, I have concluded that this is certainly the great archeological museum in the world. Some call the greatest museum in the world of any kind and this is quite possibly true.
The British Museum is opened seven days a week. You pay by way of suggested donation which should be about 5 pounds. Since my last visit there are been the addition of a new cafeteria which was decent.
(work in progress)
Depending on your perspective, the British Museum is either one of the most astonishing collections of antiquities in the world, or an outrageously large trove of loot shamelessly pillaged from the four corners of the earth - however, there's no doubting the extraordinary size and quality of their collection.
Many of London's large museums - such the Natural History,Science and Victoria & Albert museums - are clustered around Exhibition Road in South Kensington, but the British Museum is located further north in Bloomsbury. It is a tremendously imposing building and reflects the huge importance that Victorian society afforded antiquities, particularly those from the Classical world.
And therein lies the problem, as admiration for these precious antiquities fuelled a frenzy of acquisition - often under dubious ethical circumstances and sometimes downright looting - which means that several of the British Museum's most prized exhibits are highly controversial. The best example of this is the Elgin Marbles, for whose return the Greek government has been petitioning for decades.
These celebrated marble friezes originally came from the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis in Athens (which was used as a fort over that period). They were removed by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, who gloried in the extraordinary title of Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of His Britannic Majesty to the Sublime Porte of Selim III, Sultan of Ottoman Empire - which at that point also included Greece. Elgin obtained a dubious permit from the Ottoman authorities for their removal and export and and they have been on display at the British Museum since 1817. That being said, I'd be surprised to know that there was a single major museum in the world that didn't contain some exhibits which similarly controversial origins.
The origins of the British Museum are surprisingly old, with the Act of Parliament which enabled its creation being passed on 7 June 1753 by George II. Although museums had existed prior to this time, they were usually attached to institutions such as universities, palaces or cathedrals, with restricted access: thus, the concept of a national museum, independent of these institutions and with free access for the public was considered to be revolutionary.
As the collection expanded, it rapidly outgrew its original premises, and construction started on the current site in 1823. The original complex was designed by the amusingly named Sir Robert Smirke (who was succeeded by his equally smug brother Sydney) as a massive Portland Stone confection in the Greek Revival style, and has since been added on to in several phases.
The British Museum collection is so vast that only a tiny fraction is on display at any one point in time. Particular crowd pleasers among the permanent exhibits include the Egyptian mummy collection, the Rosetta Stone (which allowed Egyptian hieroglyphics to be interpreted for the first time) and the extraordinary collection of Mesopotamian antiquities.
There are also temporary exhibits for which an entrance fee is charged. When I was a child, the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibit ran between March and September 1972 and caused a sensation. Over the six months, the exhibition attracted over 1.6 million visitors, some of whom queued up to eight hours to see what is still the most popular exhibition that the Museum has ever hosted.
Like most of London's large museums, entrance is free, but donations are welcomed, and given the extraordinary quality of the exhibits, you'd need to be very churlish - or extremely impoverished - not to dig deep into your pocket. One of the marvellous benefits of there being no charge is that you don't feel under pressure to cram in as much as you can into a single visit to get your money's worth, as you might in some of the world's other great museums, such as the Louvre.
If you are interested in antiquities and your time permits, I would strongly suggest that you plan to visit the museum on several occasions during your stay, and to focus each visit on a particular aspect of the collection so that you avoid sensory overload. I was lucky enough to be able to do this as a student, when I used to regularly drop in during my lunch hour, and I can assure you that you'll appreciate it a lot more this way.
The British Museum was founded in 1753. It has one of the largest collections in the world. The collection includes objects from two million years of human history. You can see collections from the Ancient World, The Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.
You can tour around the museum at your own pace or take a highlights tour which are conducted three times a day. There are specialised galleries and eyeOpener tours available.
On my last visit (July 2010), I visited The Enlightenment Gallery, one of the themed galleries, which is about The Enlightenment, an era where people used reason and experience to understand the world better than before. The exhibits covered a time where people had the desire to learn more and the discoveries and objects proved their quest for knowledge and reason.
I also visited the Europe 1800-1900 Gallery. There are some interesting exhibits that relate from the Romantic Era up to the Victoria one. There is a feature on nature and its appreciation for The Sublime from a close study of the landscapes.
I highly recommend visiting The British Museum. There is so much to see and do there. There is something for everybody.
The musuem is free although a donation is always appreciated.
In the Egyptian sculpture gallery (the large gallery nr 4 on the ground floor) I discovered a beautiful bronze seated cat from 600 BC which was not there at my previous visit.
It is the "Gayer-Anderson cat" which was given to the museum in 1940 and was analysed in 2007 with X-ray fluorescence.
Since I discovered Egyptian art I have been impressed by the cat-goddess Bastet and this cat is a particularly fine example of the many statues of cats from ancient Egypt. It has gold rings in the ears and nose, a silvered collar round its neck. The eye sockets, which are now empty, would originally have held eyes made of stone or glass.
Funny is the scarab beetle on the cat's head.
Cat-goddess Bastet or Bast was much honored at the temple of Bubastis where there was a festival attracting several hundred thousand visitors according to Herodotus!
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.
You could spend years in this fabulous museum and still not see everything there is to see. Although there are over 6.5 million objects owned by the museum "only" 50,000 are on display at any given time. There are over 100 galleries spread over several floors.
You may be best to start out seeing what interests you most or the top 10 highlights which include: Egyptian Mummies, Sculptures of th Parthenon, Rosetta Stone, Nereid Monument, Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, Lewis Chessmen, Lindow Man, Benin Bronzes, and Cassiobury Park Turret Clock. My favorites were the Egyptian Mummies!
The main collections of the museum include: Greece and Rome, Ancient Near East, East Surope, Medieval and Modern Europe, Treaures of Ancient Egypt, Africa, The Americas, and one of my favorites, Asia.
There is something here for everyone to enjoy and I'd consider it a must see in London. I'd wear comfortable shoes and allow several hours. Ninety minute tours of the highlights (charge payable) start daily at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. There are free "eye-opener" tours that last about 30-40 minutes, and you can also choose from a variety of audio sets (which I recommend), including one especially for children.
Daily 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., until 8:30 p.m. every Friday (except Good Friday).
Since this is a national museum, there is no admission charge, except for some special exhibitions.
Please note that all visitor information is correct as of this update.
The British Museum is home to an amazing collection of art, artifacts and information from around the world. Admission to the permanent exhibits is free to all visitors, and their hours are:
Certain galleries are open daily but only at certain times, their comprehensive website provides information about these special collections.
It would take a visitor days and days to see everything in the museum. I will provide a selection of some of the exhibits that interested me below:
- Ancient Egypt
- Ancient Greece
- Medeival art
- Baroque art
- The African Galleries
- Anglo-Saxon artifacts
There is SOOOO much to see... make sure you plan your visit to this museum in advance!
in the last two years this museum went from being a paying one to a donations only museum (yeah!!!) and finished their incredible reading room with its wavy barcelona-esque glass roof. the entrance is simply spectacular, one of the most beautiful foyers of any museum i have ever encountered. It's a large place with many highlights (the elgin marbles and so on) but be sure to visit the africa room, which i loved.
I was particularly impressed by the exhibit of the masks that included videos of the dance rituals for which the masks were created... most museums usually throw up african masks with bad curation and no explanations for ignorant museum goers.
Another Must-See museum that is free of charge. Anyone who was raised on a steady diet of Egyptian adventure stories and tales of the Mummy during their adolescence will get a great kick out of visiting the Egyptian collection, the biggest of its kind outside Egypt. It is a great thrill to finally see the Rosetta Stone that helped to translate the hieroglyphs for the very first time. You rarely ever get such a sense of history by one single artefact.
The other collections are also worth a look, primarily the Greco-Roman antiques and the Elgin Marbles as well as the Chinese and Indian Oriental treasures.
It opens daily.
The British Museum
Okay, there is a bit of controversy surrounding this museum, because of the collection of ancient Greek artifacts, but controversy aside, this is one of the top art museums in the world (along with the Louvre, Prado, and the Met). As with the other great museums of the world, be sure to budget a fair amount of time to see it.
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.
~ 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 enjoy from my office window :)
Admission is free, as it is to all the major museums in London. Open every day 10.00-17.30, and later on Thursdays and Fridays.
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.
Closed on 1/01, Good Friday, 24, 25 & 26/12.