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London, England - The British Museum - 6th and 7th of July 2001

Posted by Edmond on Saturday, January 19, 2002

The British museum in London holds some of the world's most prized and precious artefacts from the Ancient, the Middle ages and the modern world. And it can be overwhelming when touring the museum's halls and galleries as it usually takes about two days to see all the rooms. Here, I have provided an abbreviated running commentary and tour of the many galleries and rooms of this famed museum.

British Museum Tour
1. The Great Court
2. The Reading Room
3. The Rosetta Stone in the Ancient Egyptian Gallery
4. The Parthenon (Ancient Greece Gallery)
5. The Aztecs (Americas Gallery)

The museum is easily accessible from the Tube stations. For instance, there is the option of getting to Holborn Station which services the Central and Piccadilly Lines or at Tottenham Court Road, Goodge Street Station where the Northern line runs through. Although Tottenham Court Road is closer, my preferred route is to get off at Holborn, walk up Southampton Row and turn left into Great Russell Street. Walk along Great Russell Street and the entrance of the British Museum will appear.

Entrance to the museum is free, but the guidebook costs about 2. The guidebook is a must as it is easy to get lost in this place as you tour more and more of the galleries. These use to be free so I suppose they are suddenly charging this to pay for the renovation costs of the Museum. These can be purchased at the information desk near the entrance.

The first hall that one encounters on entering the museum is the Great Court. This has been renovated with a transparent roof so that the area appears whiter and brighter. To the east are temporary exhibition halls (the huge hall is known as the King's Hall), while to the west are most of the primary exhibits of the Ancient world including Egypt, Greece and the Far East. In the centre is the Reading room, the main library of the museum while further north lies the Americas and Asia galleries. The lower floor contain more exhibits from Greece and the Far East as well as Ancient Rome and Africa.

The Reading room is usually where most people go into first. The library contains mainly writings and periodicals of the museum's collection and other books on history, and is thus useful for those who might want to find out more on the museum's collections. The only interesting feature in the room is the high blue domed ceiling with a small skydome that catches the light from outside. Otherwise, the library is a fairly dark place so it is difficult to take good photographs.

Just west of the library is the gallery of Ancient Egypt. The whole length of the hall is filled with Egyptian artefacts. But probably the most significant is the Rosetta Stone, which is located at the southern end of the hall (towards the Russell St Entrance). The museum has also provided a translation of the stone located in the vicinity. There are usually large crowds around the stone, so it is best to be patient before taking a photograph or even examine the transcriptions. Heading back north through the egyptian galleries and up the stairs, more halls can be found, the most important being the Egyptian Gallery that contains the mummies. It is this hall which is probably the most crowded, yet is pretty hard to find as it is located in the most obscure place in the museum.

Just next to the egyptian gallery on the ground floor is the near east galleries which contains collections of items from the Middle East regions of Iraq, Iran and Syria dating from the Assyrian Period. The most eye-catching are the sculptures of the Assyrian winged bulls that adorn the entrance to the gallery. Unlike the Egyptian Gallery, the items are less spectacular, consisting of mainly stone reliefs, taken from various sites across the region.

Another well know gallery is the Greek Gallery, which contains numerous reliefs and sculptures from famous Greek structures such as the Parthenon as well as near full versions of temples and the tombs and monuments from the Lykian aristorcracy that had been "salvaged" from various Ancient Greek Archeological sites. The Caryatid from the Erechtheion is one such structure which is incorporated into a near replica of the Erechtheion itself. Another example is reconstruction of the Nereid monument, complete with statues, columns, pediments and reliefs. Apparently there is a big debate as to whether the British Museum and others should return the sculptures back to Greece. Nevertheless the ancient greek gallery is truly worth the visit.

It usually takes more than a day to go through everything, so I had to come back and see the rest. As a summary, some of the galleries that I thought are worth a visit include the Roman and Greek Galleries and the Aztec exhibits in the Americas gallery. These galleries contain items such as precious jewellery, pottery and glassware. In addition, in the Europe galleries, items such as china, porcelain, jewellery, weapons of the middle ages as well as sculptures can be found.

Edmond, 2002