A Day at the British Museum in London

‘A museum of the world, for the world,’ is how it’s official website sums up the British Museum.

Dedicated to history and culture, the British Museum houses amazing artefacts from all over the world. These represent the different civilizations and uncover stories that would otherwise be lost to time.

I had the opportunity of visiting the British Museum not once but a couple of times during my stay at Russell Square in London. The museum has millions of artefacts. Each time I went there, I would discover something that I had not seen before.

This post gives a quick tour of some of the galleries and highlights of some of the exhibits that interested me most.

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British_Museum_Great_Court
By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29904221

The façade of the main entrance to the Museum, facing the Great Russel Street has a portico with tall columns and a triangular gable (pediment) on top. Designed in Greek Revival Style, it resembles the ancient Greek temples. At the centre of the Museum is The Great Court with a roof of glass and steel arching around a circular Reading Room.

Main Galleries in The British Museum

Gallery of Egypt and Sudan

The Gallery of Egypt & Sudan has a fascinating collection of Egyptian antiquities. Graves, gilded coffins and mummies can be seen in the section that deals with death and afterlife. Frescos from the plastered tombs in ancient Egypt are the Museum’s greatest treasures.

Mummy at British Museum

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Among the granite statues of the pharaohs and gods, there is a colossal red granite bust statue of Amenhotep III, the ninth pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt, and grandfather of Tutankhamun.

An inscription stone called The Rosetta Stone holds the key to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. A fresco from the Tomb of Nebamun is on display.

Gallery of Ancient Greece and Rome

The Gallery of Greece houses objects from the wonders of the ancient world along with numerous vases, cups, tablets and plaques.

Parthenon in Athens was a magnificent temple in ancient Greece dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. Marble sculptures from the pediment of Parthenon can be seen in this gallery.

Temple of Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, located in Ephesus (near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey). Columns from the temple of Artemis are amongst the collections of the museum.

A fragmentary horse which topped the podium of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Turkey, c. 350 BC. is seen in this gallery.

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Horse from Halicarnassus
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Reconstructed facade of Nereid Monument

Another prominent structure in the Gallery of Greece is the reconstructed façade of Nereid Monument, a sculpted tomb monument built in the Greek style. The façade is built from the ruins discovered by a British traveller in the early 1840s, from Xanthos (present-day Antalya province in Turkey). The ruins were shipped to the British Museum, where some of these were put together to reconstruct the east façade of the monument.

The famous statue of discus thrower Discobolus and Crouching Venus from Rome, helmets of Roman gladiators, remains from Pompeii, an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples in Italy can be seen in the museum.

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Discobolus

Incidentally, the statue of Discobolus now occupies the centre stage at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMSV museum) in Mumbai, for the ‘India and the World: History in 9 Series,’  exhibition, held in collaboration with the British Museum.

China and South Asia Gallery

The China and South Asia gallery is the longest gallery in the museum.

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Carved pitchers for serving butter tea, Qing dynasty China

The gallery has an outstanding collection of antiquities from China, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Japan and other Asian countries. Chinese paintings, porcelain, lacquer, bronze, jade, and other applied arts, Japanese prints, excavated objects from the Indus valley, Buddhist paintings, bronze and stone statues of Buddha and Indian deities can be seen in this section.

Indian sitar maestro Late Pandit Ravi Shankar’s sitar was added to the exhibits of this gallery after the British Museum received it as a gift from his wife, Mrs Sukanya Shankar.

Collections from Africa, Oceania and the Americas

Highlights of the African collection include unique masterpieces of artistry, sculpture, masks, textiles and weaponry.

The Oceanic collections of the British Museum originate from the Pacific Ocean, stretching from Papua New Guinea to Easter Island, from New Zealand to Hawaii. Artefacts from the collection are made from stone, shell, bone, feather and bamboo as metalworking was not indigenous to Oceania before Europeans arrived.  Here’s the pic of a Hawaiian feather helmet.

Inca, Maya, Aztec, Moche and other early cultures are represented in the museum’s Americas collection, through the totem poles, masks, miniature figurines and manuscripts.

Gallery of the Middle East

The Middle East collections centre on Mesopotamia (in modern Iraq) and the surrounding areas.

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Human-headed winged bulls called lamassu from Khorsabad (in modern Iraq)
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Iznik ceramics

Reliefs and sculptures from the site of Persepolis (in modern Iran), ornate silverware, carved ivory plaques and figures from Nimrud (in modern Iraq), cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, human-headed winged bulls called lamassu from Khorsabad (in modern Iraq) are a part of the museum’s collection.

The museum’s Islamic collection is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It is famous for its collection of Iznik ceramics from Anatolia, paintings, tiles, metalwork, glass, seals, and inscriptions from across the Islamic world. Mughal paintings and a massive Jade turtle made for Emperor Jehangir are among the displays in the museum.

Collections of Britain and Europe

The collection covering a vast expanse of time and geography has artefacts that tell the story of civilizations of Britain and Europe through the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age to the Early Medieval, Medieval, Modern and the Renaissance period.

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Knight at the Museum

Drawings by the Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Dürer, Rembrandt, Claude and Watteau, Pablo Picasso and other great artists are included in Prints and Drawing section.

In addition to the permanent exhibits, the exhibitions are organized in the British Museum on specific themes.

Books and media, souvenirs, accessories and culturally inspired gifts and jewellery are available in the Museum store.

For more information, visit the British Museum’s website.

Tips for a visit to the British Museum

– The British Museum is at a walking distance from three Tube stations – Russell Square, Tottenham Court Road and Holborn.

– Museum galleries are open daily 10.00–17.30, and most are open until 20.30 on Fridays.

– It is advisable to wear comfortable shoes

– Wheeled cases and large luggage items are not allowed on British Museum premises

– Groups of 10 people or more must use the Montague Place entrance,

– Snacks are available in the Museum Restaurant. Other restaurants can be found in the Bloomsbury Square near the Russell Street railway station.

– Entry to the museum is free. There is a fee for the exhibitions and events.

The British Museum is a must-see place for anybody who goes to London. If you are a history buff and a culture enthusiast, you may like to spend a whole day there, otherwise, a visit to the museum from 2 hours is worth the time spent.

 

Featured Image Attribution: By Marcus Cyron (Scan) (ISBN 978-3-8228-5455-6), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3559333

References:

The British Museum Blog

The British Museum on Wikipedia

  • author's avatar

    By: Somali K Chakrabarti

    Hi there! Welcome to Scribble and Scrawl! Here, I delve into themes related to positive lifestyle – from making smart-living choices, savvy financial decisions to nurturing the mind, body and soul. I share my travel experiences, explore facets of art and culture and highlight inspiring stories. Hope you enjoy reading my posts.

  • author's avatar

Somali K Chakrabarti

Hi there! Welcome to Scribble and Scrawl! Here, I delve into themes related to positive lifestyle - from making smart-living choices, savvy financial decisions to nurturing the mind, body and soul. I share my travel experiences, explore facets of art and culture and highlight inspiring stories. Hope you enjoy reading my posts.

comments
  • Beautiful write Somali , taking us with you to explore British Museum!

  • This museum seems to be a wonderful combination of art and culture of the world! Thanks for taking us along with you Somali. It seems to be quite vast. Did you spend the whole day there? I am amazed at the perfect granite statue of the pharaoh and those pitchers from China are so fascinating! Your images add a lot to your description. I look forward to visiting this museum one day. Thanks for this inspiring post.

    • Thank you very much Balroop. I love visiting museums and The British Museum was at a 10 min walking distance for my apartment. So, I have been there quite a few times. Luckily, I found out the pictures and I could use those in the post. A must-go place if you are in London. :-)

  • Looks like an interesting place to explore, especially for the history buffs.I think Egyptian section will interest me the most. I believe that a large number of pieces must have been collected during colonial rule.

  • Avery authentic study of the British Museum, London.

  • Thanks for taking us for a lovely journey through the British Museum. They have a fantastic collection thanks to their coverage of colonies. Like the photo of the lady with the Knight. :-)

    • Thank you very much sir. Yes, much of the collection in the museum can be attributed to the British colonization. But they have preserved these very well and the amount of research they have done and the way these are cataloged in their online collection is appreciable. .

  • Thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece on the British Museum, Somali. It as quite a few galleries, and amazing that it houses so many artifacts from around the world, past and in the modern day. I read your comment to Balroop – that you have been there a few times. So lucky, because from the looks of it, it might be hard to see everything in one day :) It is amazing how the artifacs are preserved from so long ago, and look to be standing strong from looking at your photos. Guessing most of them are ‘see no touch’, no touching or getting too close :D

    • Thank you very much, Mabel. Yes, most of these artifacts are see- but-no-touch. Luckily they allow photography. Having the pictures makes it easier to recollect the trips and put up a post. So happy to know that you enjoyed reading the post. Wish you a great week ahead. :)

  • Kudos to you Somali, this is a brilliant narration with such details and with your nuanced commentary, it makes a fascinating read. I must admit it is never easy to pull out those little lovely experiences, incidents lightly ensconced in the lanes and by lanes of memory, and weaving a modern fabric that is engaging and exciting. Artifacts ranging from vases, plaques, miniatures figurines, manuscripts, paintings to statues to weaponry, the more you dive deep into the culture and craftsmanship, the more we wonder about the world gone by and perhaps many such wonderful creation still remains hidden somewhere, and as we keep exploring we keep ourselves provided with those beautiful surprises.

    Such has been the rich past we all have left behind not able to relate unless we take a stipulated voyage into these breathtaking museums and the way you have described British Museum, perhaps it remains the most iconic museum in the world. All great people are lucky to make a visit to such places and you had the privilege to stay close and you have made few visits there, and needless to say about you as person who presents to us the bounty of lost glories of world around in such magical manifestation, it stays and it touches our heart and I was no exception, I always wonder how you mange to capture such finer details and every word that you use has such lofty significance and I always ensure that I read few times to get the maximum out of your wonderful articulations.

    The Disc Status of Discolobus, Helmets of Roman gladiators to Iznik Ceramics are always etched in our memory from history book as we see we are quick to connect to a different world. I’m still not able to fathom the richness and the range of artifacts and art that dotted the Greece and Egypt civilizations. The irony of today’s conflict look at the history and where the fight is taking place, the geography of Iraq and Turkey. In the end I once again went back to the beginning of the post and the galnced at imposing facade of the Museum entrance perhaps that sets the tone of what’s going to come for a visitor when once steps into another world, altogether.

    Thank you so much Somali for such lovely voyage into history and culture.
    Hope you had a great Sunday.
    :D

  • Thank you so much, Nihar. So happy to know that you enjoyed the peek inside the British Museum. It is like seeing history coming together under one roof. Borders and cultural contexts shift with time. Many cities that once thrived have completely disappeared or have turned into ruins. Yet, the remains help us to know more about the lives of the people in those place who lived in different time frames.
    An interesting realization that I had is that most of things in the Gallery of Greece are from Antalya in Turkey, which was once an ancient Greek city. Iraq, a country ravaged by war once housed the oldest civilizations in Mespotamia. Such eye- openers teach us to appreciate the different cultures and at the same time recognize the transience of life and the perils of war.
    Hope you had a nice weekend too. :)

  • This was almost a virtual tour. Museums do make us wonder about our past, the way we, humankind, have evolved and developed throughout the years. the glorious past, the tragic events. Thoroughly enjoyed the post.

    BTW, the ‘like” button didn’t work :(

  • Indeed a quick virtual tour, Somali! Your post itself is so exhaustive that I can’t even imagine the richness of the real tour. Each one of the Oriental gallery in itself is like history revisited and stories retold, some new, some already known… And if we look closely, everything boils down to some same universal human values and emotions.. and, this must be preserved!

    • Thanks Kokila. It is really like revisiting the history that we have read about and discovering more. As you say everything boils down to human values, aspirations and emotions, due to which mighty empires were born. they thrived and were later reduced to rubbles with time.

  • Wow…this brings back so many childhod memories…in particular walking around a pyramid that seemed so mystical at the time. I can’t find it (a picture) on the musuem website now…I guess that is what memories are for.

  • One visit, rather almost a three fourth of a day was not enough here. A nice synopsis of the museum. You seem to have covered it all. There are plenty of things from India too here. And the mummy section was my favorite.

    • True Ami. One visit is not enough to cover all sections. I have covered it in a number of visits. Yes, it is a different feeling when you see sculptures of Saraswati and Nataraj there along with Budhha from different countries in the Asian section. Thank you so much for stopping by.

  • Very detailed and beautifully written . I have come t know a lot about these places !! Thank you Somali ji for sharing a nice post

  • Any museum space is woven with so many aspects not only with the collection but the vibes they bring in and possibly reside of the glorious (inglorious) past and everything associated with it. History Speaks! Loved this tour…how minuscule it must be when the entirety is considered right!

    • Thank you, very much Deepa. It is the stories behind these exhibits that capture our imagination. How people would have built these things thousands of years ago. How these would have been in their days of glory, how these were ruined and then collected and brought to the museum. You see the history unfolding in front of your eyes. Thak you once again for summing it up so well.

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