Newest Review: ... one of the museum's shops and a cafe. The museum is enormous and you could easily spend several days exploring it, I, like most peo... more
2 million years of history under one roof
British Museum (London)
Member Name: albacookie
British Museum (London)
Advantages: Looks beautiful, amazing exhibits
Disadvantages: Sore feet if you do it all in 1 day.
The British Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London with over 6 million visitors annually. Located in Bloomsbury it is easily accessible by Tube - Tottenham Court Road or Russell Square Stations are a 2 minute walk away. The museum is open daily from 10am till 5.30pm and is free to all visitors - they do suggest a donation of £4 per visitor.
It is worth taking a minute to admire the building before you go in as it is quite spectacular in its own right - it emulates classic Greek architecture especially the columns and the pediment above the south entrance. The courtyard in the centre of the museum was originally designed as a garden but had been taken over by the Reading room and library storage until it was redesigned in 1997 and opened to the public in 2000. This is now a huge light, airy space which houses the information desks where you can pick up maps and audio guides in 10 languages, one of the museum's shops and a cafe.
The museum is enormous and you could easily spend several days exploring it, I, like most people I suspect was principally interested in seeing its most famous exhibits - the Rosetta stone, the Elgin Marbles and the Egyptian Mummies. The Rosetta stone is easily identified by the large group of tourists around its glass case! It is situated in room 4 which is immediately off the Great Court. The stone is roughly 1 metre high and covered in tiny writing so you will need to get quite close to appreciate it. The discovery of the stone enabled Egyptian hieroglyphs to be understood for the first time - the writing consists of hieroglyphs, demotic - the everyday language of ancient Eygpt and ancient Greek all translating a decree passed by the council of priests. There is also a replica in the Room of Enlightenment which you can touch and photograph more easily as there is no case to reflect the camera flash and far fewer people.
The Elgin Marbles are situated in the next gallery. Embarrassingly I expected to find some large round stones but the term actually refers to the sculptures retrived from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1801 and 1805. The most impressive are the central friezes that would have sat at the top of the columns, these stretch along the walls of the gallery and the statues of the Greek gods that would have sat in the temple. Even without an audio guide there is plenty of information about the exhibits to help you get the most out of what you are looking at. There are also free tours of the Ancient Greek exhibits at 11.30 daily and of other galleries at various times. The sculptures are controversial as the Greek government have campaigned in recent years to have them returned - the museum do a good job of stating the case why they believe they should remain in London.
The Egyptian mummies are on the upper floor - the gallery explores ancient Egyptian funeral rights and belief in the afterlife. As well as the mummies there are coffins, funeral masks and items buried with the dead . Having been to the Egyptian museum in Cairo this exhibit is quite small by comparison but interesting none the less and certainly seemed very popular.
Currently the museum is also working with Radio 4 on its A History of the World in 100 objects series. Even if you haven't caught it on the radio you can pick up a leaflet in the museum and follow man's development over 2 million years from stone tools to credit cards. There are also temporary exhibits which you have to pay extra to see. Currently there is a display of Italian Renaissance drawings which would have cost £12 to visit.
The British museum can seem overwhelming at first as it is so vast but it is well laid out and easy to navigate around so don't be put off visiting. As it is free you can make as many trips as you want which is great as I personally can't manage more than half a day or so before I need a change of scene.
Summary: A must see
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