The British Museum is located by Russel Square Subway Station and it is one of London’s most important attractions other than being one of the largest and most important museums in the world.It was founded by Sir Hans Sloane, a physician and a scientist who donated to the nation its huge collection of more than 70,000 art objects in the 1700s.On the 7th of June 1753, King George II gave his formal consent to the creation of the British Museum, the very first public museum in the world. The foundation act combines two libraries with the initial Sloane collection: an invaluable collection of medieval manuscripts and important parchments which were later added to the Royal Library. These foundation collections also included many valuable and rare books which were later transferred to the British Library.It is known that during the Second World War the Parthenon’s sculptures and the most valuable collections in the museum were placed in safer places and only at the end of the war the collections returned to the building, already restored after the London bombings. In the 70s a Parliamentary Act approved the construction of the British Library to contain rare manuscripts and important books not finding place in the actual museum.In order to accommodate such large and rich collections, it was necessary to look for a building worthy of such grace and the city organized many fundraising events to collect the money needed to buy the Montague House, the building which is currently hosting the museum.This residence was built in the late 17th century by the duke of Montague, an ambassador to the French court.The refurbished British Museum, with its neoclassical façade adorned by a large porch, took more than 20 years to be completed.The British (as we call it) has a large square courtyard at the centre of the main hall which is called the Great Court; covered by a large glass dome is the largest covered square in Europe. At the centre of the Great Court there is a circular reading room designed to contain one million volumes. This room was formerly part of the British Library, which was then transferred here and opened in the late 1800s.The reading room is open to the public free of charge and anyone can consult the publications. The amazing thing about the museum is indeed that the entrance to the permanent collection is free for all visitors although it always hosts temporary exhibitions which are to be paid for.The British Museum today hosts six million objects that represent the history and culture of humanity from its origins to modern days and it is visited by more than 6 million people every year, a large number of tourists but also a large number of locals.It includes collections from the most prestigious civilizations in the world including but not limited to Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Arab, South East Asian, Chinese and European. Although the museum is hosted in a very large building with several wings, it suffers from a lack of exhibition space so many art objects are packed in its basements and such objects are displayed only periodically on a rotation basis. The museum is very important for the city of London and for its inhabitants and several students come here every day to draw, do research or learn history hands-on (well not really hands-on or the guardian will be mad at you but you can get quite close to the objects).In the British Museum there are important historical finds such as coins and ancient banknotes, medals, paintings and lithographs.Due to the extraordinary richness of the collections, it is virtually impossible to see all exposed objects, even if you have several days available; even more difficult and time consuming would be to try to read and learn all informative material available.Here is my modest list of the most interesting specimens found here:–Buddha’s Impressions–Egyptian mummies and sarcophagi–The Portland vase, so called by the homonymous Duke, is a true blown glass masterpiece–The remains of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World–The remains of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus–The Rosetta Stone–The sculptures of the Parthenon–The Clock Room–The Oxus Treasure–The Great Dish with depictions of Bacchus god of wine, Hercules and other Roman mythological figures–Aphrodite’s head…and from Japan, the amazing collection of Samurai armours!
I moved to London over 2 years ago but only last year I started writing for a local newsletter for Expats in London telling about my experience in this big city and giving advice to newcomers. London is a very dynamic city and has a lot for everyone but it’s important to have a local point of view to navigate it without getting lost. Let me be your guide to hidden London!