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The British Museum - The First National Museum To Be Open To The Public Anywhere In The World

By OGP Reporters / Members Contribute File Photos

Oh Good Party

Enjoy a unique comparison of the treasures of world cultures under one roof, centred around the magnificent Great Court. It was free to visit so that any — studious and curious persons — could pass through its doors and look upon the strange objects collected from all over the globe.This was a chance for anyone to stand in front of specimens and antiquities and connect with other cultures, ancient and contemporary.

Founded in 1753, the British Museum’s remarkable collection spans over two million years of human history. The British Museum is a working organisation carrying out research and conservation and that’s reflected in the breadth of the collection and the way in which it’s displayed. It was also the first national museum to be open to the public anywhere in the world. Enjoy a unique comparison of the treasures of world cultures under one roof, centred around the magnificent Great Court. It was free to visit so that any — studious and curious persons — could pass through its doors and look upon the strange objects collected from all over the globe.This was a chance for anyone to stand in front of specimens and antiquities and connect with other cultures, ancient and contemporary.

The galleries are divided by location and periods in history — Ancient Iran, Greece, China from 5000BC onwards, Roman, Britain, Egyptian and so on. It contains a breathtaking collection of over 8 million objects that paint an interconnected portrait of the world’s cultures. But it also epitomizes the long British traditions of exploration, quirkiness and obsessive collecting. Such as the collection of physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane – ancient coins and medals, books and natural remains – and through the centuries since, it has become home to the most significant finds made by British explorers at home and abroad, like the Rosetta Stone from Ancient Egypt and the Parthenon sculpture from the Acropolis in Athens. You can even spend a few weeks here to feel these amazing treasures.

If you don’t have time to idly wander, don’t worry, we’ll guide you through, start your visit with these collections

First, the Egyptian Galleries (Room 4), we found a giant sculpture of a scarab beetle, with tenderly carved and curving legs, and an enormous bust of Ramesses II, which inspired Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.”This long, spectacular gallery, stretching almost the length of the museum’s west side, houses sculptures and artifacts from about 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian civilization. It features spectacular busts, elaborately engraved sarcophagi and the museum’s most popular exhibit — the Rosetta Stone, dating from 196 B.C. and inscribed with near-identical texts in three scripts, which allowed linguists to develop an understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs through comparison. Thought these exhibits give an instant idea of the magnificence, ambition and sophistication of ancient Egyptian culture.

Tips: Adjacent to the long Egyptian gallery is part of the museum’s Middle East collection. In Room 6, you’ll find the incredible human-headed, winged lion statues (883-859 B.C.) that formed the gates to the throne room of King Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria (which we now call northern Iraq). They do have five legs, because they were designed to be seen either from the front or from the side.

Next stop, in the Assyrian Lion Hunts (Room 10) we saw the hunt scenes show a world of pageantry, ritual and unsentimental cruelty far from most western sensibilities today. The sculpted reliefs on alabaster panels that line this gallery illustrate the extravagant hunting rituals of the last great Assyrian King, Ashurbanipal, who lived between 668 and around 630 B.C. The panels depict a full story, from the release of the lions to the subsequent chase, the showering of arrows and the killings that marked the king’s prowess and power.

Tips: In another part of this gallery, you will find remnants of the palace of Ashurbanipal from what is now northern Iraq. Look closely at the stone wall panel, which shows finely observed studies of plants and animals, including the lions that were kept in the royal gardens.

Let's continue, in the Parthenon Sculptures (Room 18), these intricately carved friezes and stand-alone sculptures offer a richly detailed portrait of Athenian society and mores.These beautiful friezes and sculptures formed part of the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens, built between 447 and 438 B.C. They were removed in 1805 by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in an attempt to save them from further degradation, but the British Museum’s possession of the Elgin Marbles, as they came to be called, has long been a subject of intense controversy.

Tips: The Nereid Monument, a large Lucian tomb found at Xanthos (in modern Turkey), in the adjacent Room 17 and is a wonderful melding of Greek and Middle Eastern figures, with nereids (mythical sea nymphs), a Persian king and a Greek army all depicted on its decorative panels.)

Go ahead to the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial (Room 41), the objects on display are exquisitely crafted and tell us much about Anglo-Saxon England and that the great treasures, epic travels and larger-than-life warriors of the poetry of that time were not far from reality. The 1937 discovery of an Anglo-Saxon ship dating from around A.D. 600 was an astonishing find of royal treasures. The 88.5-foot long ship was an archaeologist’s dream, packed with treasures, including gold jewelry, Byzantine silverware, a magnificent casket and an iron helmet. It may have been the burial place for an Anglo-Saxon king.

Tips: If you interested in clocks, Rooms 38 and 39 house wonderful timepieces that are likely to leave you marveling. Make sure to find the 1589 Carillon Clock that plays music written by Martin Luther, and the 1585 Mechanical Galleon, which has miniature soldiers striking bells and firing guns.

In all of the rooms the most noteworthy is the Chinese Ceramics (Sir Percival David collection) (Room 95) . The British Museum of cultural relics of the introduction, the first sentence is “Chinese people have created the world's most extensive and long civilization --” And yes, this stunning collection of Chinese ceramics is outstanding for its beauty, rarity and historical value. Some pieces date back to the invention of porcelain around 2,000 years ago.The gallery has more than 1,700 examples of breathtaking beautiful ceramic objects, and is well worth a look.

The history of Chinese ceramics began some eight thousand years ago with the crafting of hand-molded earthenware vessels. The first pottery was made during the Palaeolithic era. They range from construction materials to hand-built pottery vessels fired in bonfires or kilns, to the sophisticated Chinese porcelain wares made for the imperial court and for export. Ceramics has always had an important place in China, it is so identified with China that it is still called "china" in everyday English usage. Many of the most important kiln workshops were owned by or reserved for the Emperor, and large quantities of ceramics were exported as diplomatic gifts or for trade from an early date, initially to East Asia and the Islamic world, and then from around the 16th century to Europe. In face, Chinese ceramics have had an enormous influence on other ceramic traditions in these areas. The Chinese refined the technology over time and their advances are unmatched anywhere else in the world.

From another point of view, Chinese ceramics that sell for spectacular prices at auction inspire some to hunt through their attics for potential hidden treasure. After a small but very rare Chinese "chicken cup" set an auction record after it sold for $36 million at Sotheby's auction in 2014, the vessels became "the most faked Chinese porcelain objects in China." We have to say that the market for Chinese ceramics and works of art has really been rising over the last century, but what we've seen since the dramatic rise of the Chinese economy (particularly since the late 1990’s), is a staggering rise in prices in this field.

Tips: Next to the ceramics gallery is Room 67, devoted to Korean culture and tradition from 300 B.C. to the present. It has an eclectic range of objects, including metalwork, drawings, painting, ceramics and calligraphy.


1. Entrance to the Museum is free, but there are admission charges for special exhibitions and some events.

2. Opening Times: Open daily 10:00-17:30. Open late on Fridays until 20:30.


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