Monday, October 16, 2006

British Museum

Great Court of the British Museum

This photo of the British Museum is part of one of the panoramic images found on the Tour of London. There are over 100 images taken from around London linked to an interactive map.

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One of the few benefits to living in a large city is the potential for culture. European nations have had more time (and resources) than many to collect (or, as some would say, plunder) items from around the world for display and research. Prime among these collections in London has to be that of the British Museum. And I am quite fortunate as the British Museum is within walking distance of me. Access to the British Museum is free, however there are often special ticketed exhibitions (free with the London Pass) on at the British Museum as well.

The British Museum – home of the famous and contentious Elgin Marbles from Greece. These are not, as I used to think when growing up, a collection of glass spheres being played with by the gods of Greece, but friezes and colossal statues of marble from the quadriga of the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos. It is also home to the Benin Bronzes which are similarly in great demand.

Then there is the huge Egyptian and Persian collections on the first floor of the British Museum. Here too I came across the Rosetta Stone, one of the most important artifacts in the deciphering of ancient scripts from the middle east. A few years ago, amongst much rumbling, the British Museum opened the new Great Court, which is displayed here in the picture. This opened in 2000 and is made of 1,656 panes of glass, each with a unique shape. In the centre is the Reading Room.

If you want some stats, then I can tell you that the collection began in 1753, when a Sir Hans Sloane gifted his collection of some 70,000 items to the King. It was established by an act of Parliament and the collection contained here has been growing ever since. Later on when it grew too large the collection was split and all the biological items re-housed in the Natural History Museum.

Up until 1997 the British Museum also held the bulk of ancient manuscripts and objects of interest belonging to the British Library. These have since moved to the new British Library building located near Kings Cross. Included in this collection are Lindisfarne Gospels which date from 7C or so, and the Codex Sinaticus, a copy of the New Testament and parts of the Old Testament dating from around 300 AD.

The British Museum is near to Russell Square and Tottenham Court Road Tube stations.

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A full panoramic image of the outside of the British Museum is found on the London tour by An enlargement of this photo can be found on Flickr.

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