LONDON FOR FREE – THE BRITISH MUSEUM
Dedicated to human history, art, and culture, The British Museum is located in the Bloomsbury area of London. It has a permanent collection numbering some 8 million works and is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence. Exhibits originate from all continents and illustrate and document the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.
Largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane, The British Museum was established in 1753. The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, which was on the site of the current museum building. Its growth over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of British colonial expansion. There are many galleries dedicated to specific topics such as Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, Assyria, Mesopotamia etc. Some objects in the collection, most notably the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, are the objects of controversy and there are calls for their restitution to their countries of origin.
One of the most interesting exhibits is the Rosetta Stone, which is inscribed with a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The decree appears in three scripts: the upper text uses Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the middle portion Demotic script, and the lowest Ancient Greek. Presenting essentially the same text in all three scripts, the stone provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. It was discovered by a French soldier in 1799 during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign but fell into English hands in 1801 and has been exhibited at the British Museum since 1802.
The Greek Revival façade facing Great Russell Street is a characteristic building of Sir Robert Smirke, with 44 Ionic columns 45 ft (14 m) high, closely based on those of the temple of Athena Polias at Priene in Asia Minor. The construction commenced around the courtyard with the East Wing (The King’s Library) in 1823–1828, followed by the North Wing in 1833–1838. The pediment over the main entrance is decorated by sculptures by Sir Richard Westmacott depicting The Progress of Civilisation and consisting of fifteen allegorical figures, which were installed in 1852.
Until 1997, when the British Library previously centred on the Round Reading Room moved to a new site, the British Museum housed both the national museum of antiquities and the national library in the same building. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all other national museums in the United Kingdom it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions.
For further details go to www.britishmuseum.org/
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