These two museums are among Oxford's finest - and conveniently located in one building.
The Museum of Natural History is a good place to go to with children who might not be as fascinated by college architecture as their parents. Here they can see many preserved specimen of curious animals such as a globefish or several crocodiles. Furthermore, there are a lot of animal skeletons, ranging from dinosaurs to hippos, from pigs to horses. Lots of activities for children such as hands-on sessions or simply the possibility to draw a picture of their favourite animals make the museum worth a trip.
The Pitt Rivers Museum might be of more interest to the older ones. It was founded in 1884 when Lieutenant Pitt-Rivers gave his collection to the university under the condition that the university opened a chair for anthropology. Oxford University did so, and thus received a really interesting collection of some 20,000 man-made items. Nowadays, there are more than 500,000! What can be seen there? Pitt-Rivers was interested in the customs of peoples from all over the world, so you can find animal bone whistles, arctic clothing, fetishes, hats, toys made from rare woods and thousands of other things. It is really interesting to walk through the maze of display cases and see how humans all over the world lived their lives. One of the Pitt-Rivers' biggest (or rather smallest) attractions are the shrunken heads. It would go beyond the frame of this tip to explain the process of shrinking a head, but it's really incredible to take a look at the result: a microscopic, rather dull-looking human head. I'll add a photo soon!
One of the most memorable experiences in Oxford for me is my visit to the Ashmolean Museum. Lonely Planet promised "a stunning collection of antiquities as well as European and British art". For once, this was an understatement.
The museum really holds a carefully selected collection of the best in art, archaeology and more. It is anything but boring or repetitive, because there are only a few items of each period, each style, each artist, and wherever you go there is something new and different and exciting to see.
The museum opened in 1683 in another building on Broad Street which todays houses the History of Science Museum. The present large building was built in the neoclassical style, and very recently a new wing, built in a modern style, was added; this enabled to museum to display more items from its vast collection.
The painting galeries have works by Rembrandt, Breughel, Turner and Picasso, to name a few.
In the sculpture gallery my favorite was "the Elderly Fisherman" of 200 AD, found at the Hadrianic baths in Asia Minor. While most sculptures of that period depicted gods, kings or military leaders, this one depicts a common fisherman, but his realistically sculpted face is as interesting and deep as any king's.
There are some exquisite 15th-16th century tapestries and musical instruments. There is a porcelain gallery, and a few galleries of Asian art; my favorite there were modern Japanese paintings in a mixture of traditional and modern style.
On a very different subject: one showcase contains National Equitable Labour Exchange banknotes from Robert Owen's early socialist society, one bearing the value of "Eighty Hours" (of work, of course; see photo).
Oxford's Ashmolean Museum is the home of a vast collection of paintings, sculpture, pottery and other artefacts from all over the world. From every corner of the world ~ Egyptian, Roman, Byzantian, Greek etc etc. The museum first opended in 1683 and used to display a stuffed Dodo ...until it rotted!
The collection of European Rennaissance art is sometimes stunning, dating from the 15th century. I went to see the art but was more amazed by some of the wonderful frames around the paintings. And the incredibly decorative furniture scattered around the galleries.
What is very nice is that you can get right up close, there are no rope barriers or unfriendly security staff.
Something for everyone, the kids will like the Egyptian mummies and there are regular lunchtime tours and talks for the grown-ups.
If I lived in Oxford I would be visiting this museum every week. With FREE admission it is very possible!! Closed Mondays, normal opening hours 10 till 6pm.
UPDATE: the Ashmolean now has a fabulous modern (and large) rear extension, as well as a rooftop restaurant, which opened in 2009.
I have to say that very often City and Town Musuems are a little disappointing - however that is rewally up to each visitor to make up their minds upon. This is cited as being "..treasure trove of Oxford's past....."
The musuem highlights both the City and University's past and brings it together rather well.
Founded in 1683, the Ashmolean is the oldest public museum in Britain and one of the oldest in the world. It is a museum of art and archeology and displays its collections in the Departments of Antiquities, Eastern Art and Western Art in addition to the Heberden Coin Room. I must say I preferred the mummies at the Ashmolean to those at the British Museum, where I thought their smell was going to make me sick.
Apart from the permanent exhibitions, the Museum organises temporary ones as well as lectures, films and workshops on art and archeology. Although admission to the museum is free, you may have to pay for those. Booking a seat is advisable. For more information on the current events, consult their webpage.
While you are there, visit the Museum Shop, one of the best souvenir shops in Oxford. And finally, take a rest in their cafe. You will need it after walking through all those rooms.
No flash photography, video cameras or camcorders.
The Museum has a lift to all floors and a wheelchair is available on application to the staff.
Opening times: Tuesday to Saturday - 10 am. to 5 pm.
Sunday - 12 noon to 5 pm.
Photo by Barbara Molland
In the UK, this archeological museum is second only to the British Museum in London. It contains countless treasures and historical artifacts. Founded in 1683, it is also among the world's oldest public museums. And it's free.
The oldest museum in the United Kingdom and home to many fabulous collections and priceless artifacts all housed in a huge and stunningly elegant neo-classical building which you can't miss in it's dominating position on the corner of Beaumont St & St. Giles.
The museum greets you with a wonderful sculpture gallery adorned with classical statues and is particularly strong in it's collections of middle eastern and far eastern antiquities, Italian Renaissance painting as well as Flemish & Dutch 17th century works with also, on a personal note, some priceless Pre-Raphaelite works including Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Dante on the First Anniversary of the Death of Beatrice" and "Reverie".
It is also renowned for it's ancient British antiquities including Viking silver, many Anglo-Saxon treasures and perhaps most famously, the stunning "Alfred Jewel" belonging to King Alfred the Great (871-899 AD) who legend has always considered the founder of Oxford, although apparently it's not the case..
The museum of Oxford is housed in the historic Town Hall. The Museum of Oxford, so the tourist guide tells me, tells the story of the city and the University using finds from local archaeological excavations including an outstanding Medieval collection. However since I had little time to go in and wanted to see a lot other things I took this picture outside. Just one of the outstanding buildings, one out of many, in Oxford
The Ashmolean is the oldest museum in the country.
The origin of the collection goes way back to Lambeth, London. There in a pub called the Ark, the 17th-century naturalist and royal gardener John Tradescant displayed the extensive collection of rarities and curiosities gathered on his trips to Europe or given to him by sea captains. After his death in 1638, Tradescant's son, also called John added numerous items from the New World. The collection was bequeathed to Ashmole who presented it to the university. Items from the Ark can be seen in the Tradescant Room on the first floor. They include Guy Fawkes' lantern and as the star attraction, Powhatton's Mantle. Powhatten was a Virginian Native American Chief and the father of Pocahontas.
The Antiquities Department has a fine Egyptian section and extensive displays covering Ancient Greece, Rome and the Near East as well as Dark-Age Europe and Anglo-Saxon Britain. It is in the latter section that the museum's most famous artefact, the Alfred Jewel, is kept. Found in Somerset in 1693, it is regarded as the finest piece of Saxon art ever discovered. It bears the inscription Aelfred mec heht gewyrcan('[King]Alfred had me made').
The other attraction is the Department of Western Art on the first floor, which includes drawings by Michaelangelo and Raphael, as well as The Hunt in the Forest, painted by the Florentine artist Paolo Uccello in 1466.
Sadly I have to admit, that the day which we visited this Museum, they were preparing for the next exhibition. Only the bookshop and cafe were open on that particular day. They do have a rather good musuem shop!
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