Petit Futé's opinion on BRITISH MUSEUM
Discover the Rosetta Stone and fragments of the frieze of the Parthenon of Athens in one of the oldest museums in the world.
The British Museum is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. It receives 6 million visitors a year. In 1753, the State acquired the collection of Sir Hans Sloane. Initially housed in Montagu House, the place soon became too small to preserve the various bequests and acquisitions made, including the Cottonian Library and the Harley family collection. The Department of Natural Sciences was transferred to the Natural History Museum in South Kensington in 1881. Work on the new museum began in 1824, with the last stone of the building being laid in 2000, when Norman Foster drew up the plans for the huge glass and steel roof covering the central courtyard. The museum is divided into several departments, very different from each other but equally interesting. With its 4 million objects, the institution can be visited in several stages. You can select a few themes and devote two or three half-days to them so as not to saturate. Every year new items are added to the museum.
Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Presentation of Indian, Maori, Eskimo, Polynesian, Aztec, etc. cultures. You will observe beautiful examples of masks, objects and costumes. In this section, the practices of different peoples in the face of death and illness are analyzed.
Egyptian Antiquities. In these rooms are presented Egyptian sculptures, the most famous of which is the Rosetta Stone, a fragment in Egyptian and Greek that enabled Champollion to decipher hieroglyphics. To those who wonder why it is not exhibited in France, although it was discovered in 1799 by Napoleon's soldiers, the answer is quite simply that its transfer to England was part of the clauses of the Treaty of Alexandria, signed after the French defeat at Aboukir. You continue with rooms that present life in the time of the Egyptians, the funeral rites and the famous mummies.
Ancient Greece and Rome. The collections begin with the Greek civilization present on the island of the Cyclades, you then discover the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations and their collections of jewellery and pottery. The following rooms are dedicated to Greek art between 1050 and 520 B.C. and to Greek vases, models first with black figures and then with red figures on a black background. Don't miss the reconstruction of the Nereides' tomb with its facade built like a small temple, the "Mausoleum" of Halicarnassus (one of the Seven Wonders of the World) and the famous fragments of the Parthenon frieze, brought back by Lord Elgin at the beginning of the 19th century and which have since caused a controversy with Greece, which wishes to repatriate them. Then comes the splendour of the Roman Empire with objects that illustrate the rise of Rome, which quickly became an imperial capital controlling the entire Mediterranean basin and Western Europe. The room on the Etruscan world presents objects of religious devotion and everyday objects. The final rooms explore the influence of Greece in Italy, the fashion for Roman portraits and sculpture, which play an important role in the civil and domestic life of the Empire.
Asia. You will discover objects from India, South and East Asia (Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka). The rooms dedicated to ancient China reveal very beautiful collections of jade, the oldest pieces of which date back to the Neolithic period. There are also rooms presenting the art and culture of Japan and Korea.
Europe and Great Britain. Here you will find objects dating from prehistoric times, tracing the fascinating evolution of man in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Tools, weapons, everyday objects, jewellery with, among these rare items, real treasures such as the Mold cloak or the Rillaton cup. It is also in this department that the man of Lindow, an unfortunate man who, in the Iron Age, was murdered (probably for a ritual sacrifice) and then thrown into a bog. The acidity of the peat bog kept him there until 1984, when he was discovered by farm workers. Then comes the medieval period, which follows the departure of the Roman legions and marks the invasions of the Saxons and the Vikings. You can see a boat, which served as a royal burial place, found intact in Sutton Hoo in 1939. Or admire the Lewis Chessmen, a walrus ivory chess set dating from the 12th century and the Black George icon, depicting St George on a black horse (very rare), discovered in 1959.
The Middle East. Here you will find objects presenting the culture and civilization of Middle Eastern countries from the Neolithic period to the present day. Assembled thanks to various archaeological excavations, the pieces come from Mesopotamia, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia ... Among the major pieces, the treasure of Oxus, Phoenician ivories and the famous winged lions that guarded the gates of the palace of Ashurnasirpal II.
Department of Graphic Arts. The British Museum also has a very rich collection of drawings (50,000), some of which are in the hands of the greatest masters, particularly from the Renaissance.
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Every day from 10am to 5pm. Free admission.
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