The British Museum
British Museum. Entrance forecourt. Built in 1823-1852. Great Russell Street.
"The Principal Facade, towards (S.) Great Russell Street, with two projecting wings and a portico in the centre, is 370 ft. in length. In front it has an Ionic colonnade of 44 columns. The pediment above the Portico, which is borne by two rows of eight columns, is adorned with sculptures by Westmacott : on the right, Progress of the Human Race; on the left, allegorical figures of Mathematics, the Drama, Poetry, Music, and Natural Philosophy".--Baedeker 1915.
Our British Airways flight from Washington Dulles arrived at Heathrow at 10:15 a.m. Customs and baggage claim were smooth and soon we were meeting our ground transportation. We arranged ground transportation to our hotel (and later to Southampton) through Princess Cruises. Unlike the typical situation of joining with fellow passengers on a motorcoach, we found this time we had a private driver and car (a Mercedes no less) waiting for us!
The M4 Motorway brought us from Heathrow to London. The first sight of London proper was the tower of the London Museum of Water & Steam. The Victorian era tower was once a standpipe for the Kew Bridge Pumping Station. The M4 devolved into a series of famous thoroughfares passing in turn the Victoria & Albert Museum, Harrod's, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. A mini tour of London before arriving at our hotel in Holborn!
Ensconced in our hotel (the Grange Holborn Hotel), the question was how to best use the afternoon. Rain threatened, so our decision was the British Museum over the Tower of London. This turned out to be a wise move as showers shortly appeared.
The British Museum was less than five blocks for
The Rosetta Stone. British Museum.
"In the middle is the celebrated 'Stone of Rosetta', a tablet of black basalt with a triple inscription. It was found by the French near the Rosetta mouth of the Nile in 1798, but passed into the possession of the English in 1802. One of the inscriptions is in the hieroglyphic or sacred character, the second in the enchorial, demotic, or popular character, and the third in Greek. It was these inscriptions which led Young and Champollion to the discovery of the hieroglyphic language of ancient Egypt".--Baedeker.
the hotel. On the way, we passed Bloomsbury Square with its terrace houses and statue of James Fox. The queue at the museum gates was long, everyone seeing it as a refuge from the rain. By the time our place arrived at the gates, the guard announced the front entrance was closed due to the number of people in the security queue. We would all have to go to the rear entrance. It was just as long again a wait there, as the rear entrance is the tour group and motorcoach entrance. But finally, we were inside! We headed straight for...the museum cafe. The British Museum has a nice one with a grab and go selection of sandwiches. There are cakes, too, but a sandwich and crisps for lunch was our thinking. Now it was time for the main event. We saw the Rosetta Stone, Elgin Marbles, Assyrian Winged Lion, cuneiform tablets and the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, among the many exhibits of classical antiquity.
The British Museum was founded in the mid-18th century. It began in a former great house located on the same spot where it is now. The museum's 19th century Classical Revival facade is well suited
Elgin Marbles. Pediment corner angle, thought to represent the river Ilissos.
West Pediment A
"In the left angle we observe the torso (A) of a recumbent male figure, usually identified as the river-god llissos, but more probably, perhaps, a hero related to the family of Cecrops".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0580
to represent the treasurers it contains. The core of the British Museum's collection was assembled during a time of far-flung archaeological and exploring expeditions that excavated the wonders of the ancient world and brought them back to London for public display and scholarly study. The area where the Reading Room of the British Museum Library once stood (collections moved out to the new British Library in 1997) is now the Great Court and the gift shop.
The British Museum was a must-see for us and should be on anyone's itinerary for London. As with any of the world's great museums, you can't see it all in one visit. There is much else to see on return visits.
Our visit began by seeking out what we wanted to see most: the Elgin Marbles. The Elgin Marbles are the remains of the Pediments and Frieze of the Parthenon in Athens. The sculptures had been dislodged from the Parthenon by the explosion of 1687. Lord Elgin wished to study and draw them, but ultimately received permission from the Turkish rulers of Greece to bring them to London. The 5th century BC sculptures are arranged around a large gallery as they would
Elgin Marbles. Iris.
West Pediment N.
"Next comes the torso (N) of a female figure advancing at a rapid gait and clad in a short robe, with holes on the back for the insertion of wings. This is probably Iris, accompanying the chariot of Poseidon";.--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0582
have appeared on the Parthenon. A visitor can admire them at eye level and gain an idea of what they might have looked like in place. They are simply amazing, conveying motion and human expression in solid stone. I'm thrilled to have encountered them.
On the way to the Elgin Room (Duveen Gallery), we stopped at the Rosetta Stone. I had to stop for a while and consider what I was seeing. This was the real Rosetta Stone! The triplicate script that provided to key to deciphering Egyptian Hieroglyphics.
Adjacent to the Elgin marbles is the Nereid Monument exhibit. The 4th century BC Nereid Monument is a temple tomb found in Xanthos in what is present-day Turkey. It demonstrates the extension of Greek influence over the Lycian culture of Asia Minor.
Nearby is the Assyrian exhibit. Two of the giant winged bulls with human heads that one always associates with the ancient Assyrians are on display. Along with the winged creatures is a display of 8th century BC cuneiform tablets telling stories and legends of great deeds and battles. The tablets form some of the oldest written primary sources we have.
We also had time to
Elgin Marbles. Two Chariot Horses.
East Pediment B-C.
"Beginning on the left, we first observe two arms and a mutilated human head (A), in front of which are two spirited horses' heads (B, C), also considerably damaged. These are considered to represent a group of Helios, the god of the rising sun, ascending in his chariot from the depths of the ocean, his outstretched arms grasping the reins of his steeds"--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0599p1
inspect displays of Grecian decorative arts: jewelry and red figure pottery. There is so much more, from a bust of Pericles to a sculpture of Venus meant to be observed from all four sides, each view conveying a different impression of the figure. Then there are the Egyptian exhibits down to a Moai from Easter Island.
In the evening, we returned to the vicinity of the museum for dinner at the Museum Tavern, located right across the street from the British Museum. Tables can be booked in advance (by telephone or online), which we did. Our table was waiting, a good move as the pub was crowded. (There is outside seating, but this rain was not conducive to it this evening.) Despite it being in a heavily visited location, I would say that predominately locals were here after work. The wooden bar and fittings give it the perfect British pub atmosphere. I placed our food order at the bar and it was served at our table. I ordered the Ultimate Fish and Chips. A nice cod fillet was accompanied by mushy peas, pickled onions, curry sauce and tartar sauce. It was very good! The Museum Tavern is something of
Elgin Marbles. Thought to represent Dionysos.
East Pediment D.
"Next comes a youthful male figure (D), leaning in a half-recumbent posture on a rock and facing the sun. This figure (the only one of which the head is preserved) was formerly called Theseus, but, in sprite of the short hair, the panther's skin covering the rock and other attributes render its identification as Dionysos more probable".--Baedeker 1915. DSC_0597
a museum itself. The pub dates to 1723 and has operated under its present name since 1755. The present building dates to 1855.
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