diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 15, 2006

  I SPY LONDON
  the definitive DG guide to London's sights-worth-seeing
  Part 4: The British Museum

Location: Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG [map]
Open: 10am - 5:30pm (late opening Thur & Fri)
Admission: free
5-word summary: ancient booty plundered from abroad
Website: www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk
Time to set aside: a couple of days

If ever a museum had an inappropriate name, this is it. You might expect this vast Bloomsbury treasure house to be given over to celebrating Britain's historic achievements, but no. Only one corner of the first floor presents a potted history of our nation from prehistoric times to the present day. Instead the great majority of the museum's gallery space is given over to artefacts from proper ancient civilisations, fashioned in the days when we Britons were still slapping woad on our faces and chasing wild boar round uncultivated forests. The only British thing about these exhibits is that they were shamelessly stolen, several generations later, by our bravest and most daring so-called explorers.

Take the Parthenon Marbles, for example. Lord Elgin did, back in 1802, and we've not thought fit to return them ever since. Instead the British Museum boasts a long gallery devoted solely to these classical Greek sculptures, their faces defaced, rescued from a crumbling frieze carved into the roof of one of the greatest temples in Athens. Then there's the Rosetta Stone, the chipped rock that unlocked hieroglyphics, which isn't really ours either. It was originally discovered in Egypt by the French in 1799, but was surrendered to the British shortly afterwards as part of some dodgy Napoleonic peace treaty, and we've still got it. Throw in several Sumerian murals, an Easter Island statue, an awful lot of Egyptian mummies and countless other priceless foreign artefacts, and what the British Museum contains is a unique selection of global goodies which really shouldn't be here. It's a bloody marvellous collection, of course, but I still feel a collective national guilt every time I walk round.

But there is one part of the museum that truly exhibits Britishness, and that's the Great Court. In the centre is the high circular Reading Room with its musty librarians and spiralling bookcases set beneath an striking azure dome, looking every inch the Harry Potter film set. At the rear is the Museum shop, peddling lavish exhibition catalogues, replica chess sets, hieroglyphic headscarves and Roman-style jade pendants. High above the courtyard is Norman Foster's stunning geometric glass roof, completed in 2000, whose thousands of tessellating triangles are all slightly different to one another. A door leads through to the Enlightenment gallery, where classical vases and cherubs are laid out like tacky concrete statuary in an Essex garden centre. And in the northern corners are two tasteful cafes dispensing hot drinks, posh sarnies and over-priced slices of cake to weary visitors. Harry Potter, shopping, headscarves, great architecture, gardening and tea - what greater celebration of British life could you wish to experience?
by tube: Holborn  by bus: 7


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream