A Trip to the British Museum

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, I'm a big Night at the Museum fan, so when the third film actually took place in the British Museum I knew it was a travesty that I hadn't been there yet.

Yes, all the exhibits were alive,I grant you, but they were so cool. The sheer variety on display was more than I'd ever thought about. It reminded me that the place existed, basically, and I had a hunger to get my backside down south and experience the real deal: arguably the biggest and best museum in the country.

And I was not disappointed.

The British museum itself is free, situated on Russel street, which is easily reached from the major stations via the tube or bus. For me, it was a 20 min ride on the Piccadilly line (westbound) from St Pancras station and a short walk. The museum itself is a large traditional building with Edwardian classical styling, but as soon as you walk through into the main hall you can see that this is no ordinary structure. The entrance hall is sweeping and beautiful in a loose circle, with the temporary exhibits occupying the upper floor of the central circle, and with all the other steady exhibits spread around it across five levels.

Luckily there are plenty of facilities and cafes (and gift shops!), so while nothing's cheap you can easily spend all day having a good explore. Personally we spent well over 6 hours there, until our howling feet and fatigue claimed us and we had to call it a day. Even then, there is plenty to come back for.

"Six Hours?! How Much is There to See, Really?"

A whole world. Despite the name, The British Museum really isn't just about the history of Britain, or even the British Empire, but exists as a capsule of the whole world's cultures. You can find treasures from the Ancient Near East, the Islamic World, Africa, Egypt, China, South & South East Asia, Japan, Korea, The Pacific and Australia, Mesoamerica, Central and South America, North America, Prehistoric Europe, The Greek World, The Roman Empire, Roman Britain, Medieval Europe, Renaissance and Later Europe, Modern Europe and America, as well as modern examples of art mixed in with each culture. Having almost all of the world's cultures in one place to seamlessly journey through is -to put it bluntly- a goddamned revelation.

This stunning mural of an Assyrian lion hunt went on for several ROOMS at full scale.

"But Colonialism!"

Yes, I know that the British Museum is at the centre of debates on colonialism in museums, and I have mixed feelings on the subject that I have already written about at length here:


But you can't argue against the sheer awe at walking around this whole world of art and history in a day and what this can teach you. Everything is beautifully curated and treated with great respect and value and by holding everything side by side, no one item is treated as being more important than another, or one culture as being 'superior' to another. The end effect is all so amazing that it makes you proud to be human.

"Ok, So What Are The Highlights?"
As well as the general feeling of awe and discovery that comes with experiencing so many cultural treasures side by side, the thing that stuck out most to me were the sheer sense of scale that the museum was able to accommodate. 
For example, there were plaques of the beautifully intricate Assyrian lion hunt, snaking through rooms in a  dramatic tableaux. There were panels from the flipping Patheon (!), in full scale, wrapping around the whole building. Huge Egyptian pharaohs stared down at you, and Assyrian gatekeepers smiled next to the storeys-high gates themselves. Noble totem poles stood as markers and full-floor mosaics decorated the stairwells. Reams upon reams of orange and black pottery, and intricate gold-work, fabulously detailed islamic tiles, ticking timepieces and curios nestled against one another in displays. I have never seen anything like it.

One of the many Pharaohs keeping an eye on us.

In addition to the scale, what really excited me was finally seeing in person so many of the treasures that I has viewed in countless picture books about history while I was growing up. It was like encountering a celebrity!

"Look! A real easter island figure!"
"oh my god it's the jade-mosaic aztec snake. I've never seen it in real life!"

"Oh Jesus that's THE Lindlow bog man!"

In the end, It's just very hard to describe how the sheer wonder of the place hits you right in the gut. All you can do is to go see it for yourself.

A beautiful part of the African exhibit

Bonus feature: One very happy blogger.

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