The British Museum
- (020) 7323 8299
- Great Russell Street, WC1 (map of this place)
- WC1B 3BA
- Saturday-Wednesday 10.00-17.30; Thursday-Friday 10.00-20.30
- Nearest Tube stations: Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square, Goodge Street
- more details on opening hours
Home to the famous Egyptian collection and the Elgin Marbles, the British Museum is the most famous and perhaps one of the most controversial museums in the country. All its exhibits relate to Mankind and the works of Man, and a some of them were obtained at the time of the British Empire, through means which are seen as dubious at best, and possibly illegal if they were done today.
The most famous example of this are the "Elgin Marbles", marble carvings which were removed from the Parthenon in Greece and brought back to Britain by Lord Elgin in 1801-3 (and can be seen on the main floor, in gallery 18 in the Greece collection). They have been a point of dispute between Greece and the UK for a long time since.. However most people agree that Greece did not have the facilities to look after the marbles correctly and they would have been destroyed by now had they remained in Athens' polluted atmostphere.
The British Museum is free to enter (as of the end of 2002) but an optional donation of 5 pounds or so is requested. You can also donate your foreign currency in this and many other museums. There are a range of facilities for visitors with special needs.
The reading room is a working library which the public can enter, if they are silent. Just inside the entrance are glass cabinets with modern first editions which tantalise you as you wonder what literary gems there are in the rest of the building.
"It seems to me one cannot sit down in that place without a heart full of grateful reverence. I own to have said my grace at the table, and to have thanked Heaven for this my English birthright, freely to partake of these bountiful books, and to speak the truth I find there."
- William Makepeace Thackeray
In the museum proper around the courtyard there are sections of almost every time and place in the history of mankind: Africa, Egypt, American Indians, China, Mesopotamia, Persia, Ancient Greece, and so on and on.
One of the memorable exhibits is a North American Indian totem pole which goes up the middle of one staircase. If nothing else children have remembered that form school visits to the museum for decades.
It is highly recommended as part of any visit to London.
Originally opened in 1753, it was begun with the purchase of the library and collection of Sir Hans Sloane (as in Sloane Square) and of the Harleian manuscripts. It was opened to the public in 1759, and since then has had the addition of numerous collections, including the library of George III.
The majority of the existing buildings were constructed during the 19th century. The magnificent frontage on [Great Russell Street]? is some 370 in length, and has an Ionic colonnade with 44 columns. The pediment carries figures representing the development of the human race in fields such as art and science. They were sculpted by Westmacott. The dome of the Reading Room is 106 feet hight and has a diameter of some 140 feet, which is only two feet less than the Pantheon in Rome. The window panels bear twenty of the most illustrious names in English literature.
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