The British Museum is the world’s first purpose built museum. Built in 1753, it originated from the collection of Hans Sloane. A vast quantity of artefacts await, sourced from all corners of the planet, and organised according to the great civilisations that ruled them. Several hours are needed to view it, and luckily being a Friday it was open till 8, so I was afforded it. The building itself with its magnificent great court is a treasure. Admission is free, with donations of £5 suggested. The whole museum warrants exploring.
I suggest buying a colour map at the door to get the most out of your visit. Bear in mind they won’t allow you take a suitcase in with you, so either leave at your hotel or in a train station locker.
Only 1% of the Museums stock is actually on view at any given point in time. When you consider how much is on display, that’s an incredible statistic. I won’t pretend to be an authority, this was my first visit and I covered as much ground as possible. I was led by what I read, and what amazed my unlearned eye as I traversed the rooms.
Heading straight into the museum we arrive in the Great Court. 2 stairs cleverly wrap around the famous reading room, to take you to the upper floors. Gifts shops and cafes are tucked neatly under the stairs.
I started by examining the rooms to the right as I came in. It’s a bit of an eclectic collection here. The theme is enlightenment discovering the world. I had more of an interest in other parts of the museum so I passed through quickly.
From here I moved to the rooms dedicated to Mexico. I’ve always had a fascination with Mayan art. There’s an anger in their art, with imagery bordering on supernatural. Their civilisations lasted around 3500 years and some of their achievements were extraordinary. Chichen Itza in Yacatun is synonymous with their advanced culture. The turquoise masks and the double headed serpent are particularly rare. These can be found in room 27.
I moved to the Asian rooms. This is the greatest collection of Chinese artefacts outside of the orient. The Tang Dynasty is famous for its brightly coloured ornaments that were buried in their tombs. A good selection of these is on show. Of particular note also here are the number of statues to the Hindu gods.
What most drew my attention here was the sculptures from the temple in Amaravati in India. Buried for over 500 years, they were unearthed in the late 18th century. Much of the upper Temple was destroyed so what is here came from the lower parts of the temple. The detail is very intricate. They are located in room 33a.
One of the enigmatic Easter Island statues governs the Living and Dying exhibit in room 24. This one is called Hao Hakananai’a and was most likely built in Rapa Nui around 1200ad.
The reach of the Greek empire was felt far and wide. Its art is timeless. The Lykian people of Turkey were heavily influenced in their architecture. A wonderfully reconstructed tomb from Xanthos in Turkey is in room 17. Taking the form of a temple, on a base of sculpted friezes, the ruins were shipped to the UK in the 1840’s. It is named after the Nereids, the figures between the columns who were the daughters of a sea god from mythology.
The Acropolis was the centre of Greek culture, a beacon on a hill, and the ceremonial heart of an empire. The Parthenon was the main temple, dedicated to the god Athena. Completed in 432 BC, it was decorated by a 160 metres marble frieze. The vast majority of this is within the British Museum, located in room 18.
The Assyrians were a Mesopotamian empire that existed from the 25th century BC to the 6th Century BC. The passtime of kings, the royal lion hunts, are brilliantly captured on a relief from an Assyrian palace. They are considered the masterpiece of Assyrian art. They adorn the walls of room 10.
The “Ram in the Thicket” is a figure excavated from Ur in ancient Iraq. It dates from 2500BC. It is certainly unusual.
The Standard of Ur is a decorated box, depicting scenes on war and peace.It was found in the Royal cemetary at Ur. It is 4600 years old. It’s use remains a mystery.
A reconstruction of the full scale of the gates from a palace in Balawat. I couldn’t get over it.
Awesome imagery from Ancient Egypt:
The Rosetta Stone in room 10, was discovered in 1799. It was instrumental in dechipering the Egyptian heiroglypphics, that had remained a mystery since the collapse of the Egyptian empire.
Rooms 61-63 take us on the journey through Egyptian death and afterlife, the death masks, tombs, mummified remains, and offerings in death. These rooms are chillingly interesting, a tribute to one of the most interesting races to world has known.
The Gayer Anderson cat from 600BC
The false doors of a tomb at Pthashepses. Made from limestone and painted to resemble wood.
My morbid curiosity was satisfied by a couple of preserved bodies. Below is Gebelein Man from Egypt, his body preserved for 1000’s of years.
Lindow Man- died in 300BC and preserved in a bog.
Head of the Roman emperor Augustus made from bronze.
The Portland Vase is in room 70. It is dated from the earliest 1st century, and is made from cameo glass. The detail is flawless, and it has been wonderfully preserved for 200 years. It has been the inspiration for porcelain makers worldwide since the 18th century on.
Uk & Europe
The upper floors with their medieval galleries have some real highlights. The Lewis Chessman in room 40 is the worlds most famous chess set. Forged in Norway from Walrus and whale teeth about 800 years ago with the intent of being traded in Ireland. They were discovered in the 19th century in Scotland.
In Room 41 the Sutton Hoo Burial was a 6th Century ship burial, containing Anglo-Saxon aretfacts. The collection is on show here, and is truly beautiful. The helmet below shows the outstanding quality of the find.
Truly a great collection is to be found within these walls. It ranks an one of the worlds greatest museums, and there is potential to do and see much more. I wanted to present you with a snapshot of what inspired me. With daily talks on different parts of the museum, temporary exhibitions, and numerous other activities, multiple visits would be warranted. To read more of my London sightseeing trip click here.