The first museum which was open to the public and considered the best museum in the world, the British Museum is home to millions of rare objects, telling almost two million years of history. What are the museum’s most important exhibitions? What is its history?
The history of the British Museum
The British Museum was born out of the efforts of physicist and collector Sir Hans Sloane, who bequeathed his entire collection to King George II in return for a sum of £20,000 for his heirs. Hans Sloane’s entire collection numbered around 70,000 objects, including books, manuscripts, antiques and ethnographic objects. In 1759, the British Museum opened its doors to the public for the first time.
In 1823, Sir Robert Smirke built the heart of the museum, which can still be seen today. 34 years later, the North, South, East and West wings were built. Today, the external appearance of the museum is reminiscent of 19th century Greek architecture, especially with its large columns. At the beginning of the 20th century, additions allowed the museum to offer more services to the public. In 2015, it had more than six million visitors, making it the public’s favourite attraction.
Must-see places at the British Museum
With eight million rare objects, spanning nearly two million years of history, there is a reason why the British Museum is considered the best museum in the world. But with so many objects on display, and limited time, it’s important to know which exhibits in the museum are the best.
Rosetta Stone is probably the number one attraction in the museum, if not the number one attraction in any museum in the world. Dating from 196 BC, this stone has three languages: ancient Greek, hieroglyphic and demotic. Then there are the Egyptian mummies. Ancient Egypt is probably one of the museum’s favourite themes. Today it has about a hundred Egyptian mummies and sarcophagi. Unfortunately, for reasons of space, the number on display is limited. Finally, the Waddesdon Bequest is one of the museum’s newest galleries. Nearly 300 objects from the Renaissance and medieval periods were bequeathed to the museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild.
Anecdotes about the British Museum
Opened to the public in 1759, the British Museum was the first public museum in the world. When it opened, it was open to anyone who was curious and studious, and centuries later it is still open. Even more amazingly, the British Museum is older than the United States of America, whose Declaration of Independence did not come into being until 17 years later.
Many cats have called the museum home. The most famous of these cats was Mike, who was known to have guarded the museum gate for 20 years between 1909 and 1929. Four years after Mike’s death and a few years before the Second World War, the museum’s collection was evacuated. Large objects that could not be easily moved were stored in the Aldwych Tube.