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British Museum

England > London

The British Museum

London's British Museum is one of the largest, most well-known and most definitely fascinating museums of human history in the world. Located right in the heart of the city, the vast collection includes artefacts from every corner of the planet ranging from prehistoric pieces to examples of modern culture's influence on society. It is also astounding that like many of London's top museums, entry is free. There's no reason for you to miss out on visiting!

British Museum's history

The first collection from which today's British Museum would emerge was started by Sir Hans Sloane in the first half of the 18th century. He managed to amass around 70,000 different objects primarily comprising of valuable books, natural curiosities and antiquities from all over the world. The collection was sold to King George II to ensure its preservation for future generations and a decree was passed to set up the British Museum in 1753, the year that Sir Sloane died.

The British Museum was initially planned to be established on the site presently occupied by Buckingham Palace, but plans were then changed to house it in Montagu House on Great Russel Street. The Museum has remained in the area ever since with its current premises constructed over the course of 30 years with the new museum opening its doors for the first time in 1857.

As the British Empire expanded, so did the museum's collection with new wings being built to expand the museum building and accomodate exhibits from the Americas, Australia, asia and African exploration. The museum only halted its expansion during the Second World War as the majority of its most prized assets were moved to secure bunkers and a number of provincial mansions in rural England and Wales. The Duveen Gallery was severely damaged by German bombs and the museum underwent a major post-war restoration during the fifties as the collection was reassembled.

The most recent major addition to the Museum's building is the grand Elizabeth II Great Court - a large internal space covered by latticed glass making it the largest covered square in Europe. This beautiful open area at the front of the museum was opened in 2000 just after a large addition of objects from the times of Roman rule in Britain.

What's inside the British Museum?

The collection held by the British Museum is vast and includes examples of almost every piece of human history that has been preserved to our day. Here are just some of the key Departments:

  • Greece and Rome - the collection of over 100,000 pieces from Europe's ancient civilizations is one of the largest in the world. Amidst a range of statues, coins and tombs, you will find the Elgin Marbles which once decorated the Parthenon in Athens and a number of other buildings forming part of the Acropolis together with two statues and parts of internal decoration of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus which was one of the Seven ancient Wonders of the World.
  • Ancient Egypt and Sudan - the British Museum proudly showcases the world's second largest collection of ancient Egypt's relics after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Amazingly, despite the collection taking up some 7 permanent galleries including the largest room in the museum, only 4% of the collection is on permanent display. A large part of this is made up from a donation made by Professor Fred Wendorf who worked on Egyption archaelogical digs for over 30 years.
  • Middle East - the cradle of human civilization is richly represented with hundreds of thousands of examples of these ancient peoples' culture. The Mesopotamian artefacts range from Anatolia and the Caucases to the great cities of the Tigris river (modern Day Turkey and Arabian peninsula). There is great diversity in the exhibits with large stone statues and engraved obelisks from Nimrud and Nineveh placed alongside delicate jewellery and gold constructions from Persia.
  • Asia - this very wide-ranging set of exhibits span the entire Asian continent and include pieces from all time periods. Some of the most fascinating parts are the world's largest collection of Indian sculpture with a number of highly valued Buddhist pieces, Chinese porcelain and rare stone works as well as Japanese art.

Alongside these, there are Departments of Prehistory and Europe, Prints and Drawings, Africa, Oceania and the Americas & the Department of Coins and Medals.

Opening Times

Throughout the Year

  • Open Daily: 10:00 AM to 05:30 PM
Price Information

Free

  • General Free
Address

British Museum

Great Russell Street

London

England

United Kingdom WC1B 3DG

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