The British Museum is one of the oldest and finest Museums in the world and with more than 8 million objects in its collection, it takes more than one visit to take it all in. It was founded in 1753 by Sir Hans Sloane and was the first national public museum in the world in which I love to get lost on cold autumn days. It is not just a tourist attraction but a place to admire and come back to even as a Londoner!
The architecture of the building is worth a visit by itself – it was designed by Sir Robert Smirke in the Greek Revival style in 1823 but was only completed in 1852 with the inner court initially planned to be a garden. Foster & Partners re-designed the inner court which is now Europe’s largest covered public space with an impressive glass roof that created a light and open space with the world-famous Reading Room at its centre in which Karl Marx spend a lot of time, working on his book, Das Kapital. The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court was opened by Her Majesty the Queen on 6 December 2000.
The Egyptian collection is one of the highlights of the British Museum with a stone bust of King Ramesses II overlooking the gallery. Part of the Egyptian collection is the Rosetta Stone that enabled Jean-François Champollion to decipher hieroglyphic writing for the first time in 1822. The museum has also a number of mummies on display – not just Egyptian mummies but mummies of different times and cultures.
The Parthenon Sculptures, displayed in the Parthenon Galleries are one of the museum’s most famous attractions. The marble sculptures once decorated the Parthenon (located in Athens, a place I adored during my visit in 2006) – a temple built nearly 2,500 years ago, dedicated to the goddess Athena. It is also one of the more controversial exhibits of the British Museum with discussion on whether Lord Elgin – ambassador of the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century – acquired them legally or not. The Greeks have demanded more than once that they should be returned to their homeland.
A great piece of British History are the Sutton Hoo Ship burial relics, discovered in 1939 in Suffolk which is on display on the upper floor of the museum. The find provided remarkable insights into early Anglo-Saxon England.
Visiting the British Museum is like time travelling through human history. It is fascinating how people of ancient times, different beliefs, wars and cultures have shaped the world we live in today. As time travelling can be exhausting, the museum offers an array of cafe’s and restaurants inside, as well as a little food truck in front of the entrance that sells waffles and ice cream.
The British Museum is definitively a must see in London and even came in 15th on Lonely Planet’s list of the World’s top 500 sights in 2015!