The British Museum What an Experience

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    Passing through the museum doors, the first space encountered is the Great Court.  This Rotunda is the largest covered square in Europe.  Larger than a football field we found a huge gift shop but the area also includes information booths, tour booking desks, a bookstore and cafes.  Filled with people encountering the wonder of the museum, it is almost an exhibit itself.  Just off to the left of the picture is the entrance to the Egyptian Exhibit.

Passing through the museum doors, the first space encountered is the Great Court.  This Rotunda is the largest covered square in Europe.  Larger than a football field we found a huge gift shop but the area also includes information booths, tour booking desks, a bookstore and cafes.  Filled with people encountering the wonder of the museum, it is almost an exhibit itself.  Just off to the left of the picture is the entrance to the Egyptian Exhibit.

Going in through the Russell Street Entrance we stood patiently in line for security to peek into our bags.  From Security we entered into the Forecourt and walked toward the main entrance.  We climbed the stairs and walked past the columns and through the main doors and into the Great Court.  This is one of largest covered spaces in London with book stores, cafes, gift shops, and room for a lot of people.

Following the directions of our Rick Steves’ British Museum audio guide, we went to left of the entrance and crossed the Great Court and entered the Ancient Egyptian exhibit. 

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    I’m not sure how this happened with the six person deep crowd, but I got a picture of the Rosetta Stone. Very exciting.

I’m not sure how this happened with the six person deep crowd, but I got a picture of the Rosetta Stone. Very exciting.

I’ll take this opportunity to warn visitors to not try to see the museum without a plan and an idea of how to maneuver through the building.  I suggest a guide, either audio or written (they have both available in the Great Court) and map of the building is a must.  The crowds, while varying from thick to thin depending on the exhibit, make it nearly impossible to navigate between exhibits on the fly.  A little research ahead of time and a plan will allow you to get the most out this incredible adventure.

The Rosetta Stone is right there in the center of the entrance, surrounded by a crowd of people studying the writing and taking pictures.  The stone’s writing praises the Egyptian Pharaoh in three scripts, because there were three scripts in common use in 196 BCE. and the writer wanted to be sure all who could would be able to read it. The scripts are hieroglyphic (used in religious documents), demotic (the common script) and Greek (common language used by Egyptian rulers).  It was through the Rosetta Stonethat scholars were able to decipher the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt making it one of the most important archeological discoveries ever made.

Leaving the stone we made our way past the huge partial statue of Ramesses II and animal gods.  Then up the stairs leading to the mummies.

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    Passing between the winged lions you Enter into the Assyrian display.  The winged lions guarded the entrance to the royal palace of King Ashurnasirpal II.  Built between 883 and 859 BCE, the purpose of the lions was to remind visiting kings and emissaries that Ashurnasirpal II was a force to be respected and even feared as he could harvest the power of supernatural beings.

Passing between the winged lions you Enter into the Assyrian display.  The winged lions guarded the entrance to the royal palace of King Ashurnasirpal II.  Built between 883 and 859 BCE, the purpose of the lions was to remind visiting kings and emissaries that Ashurnasirpal II was a force to be respected and even feared as he could harvest the power of supernatural beings.

The mummies in rooms 62 and 63 would have been worth the effort if it had not been so crowded.  This was probably the most packed part of our trip through the museum and it was one of the few times I was worried about my bag being stolen or someone reaching into my pocket.  It was so crowded there were people pushing us in all directions.  We finally left the center isle and quit trying to take pictures and maneuvered around the side of the room.  To get back down to the Egyptian exhibits was refreshing and a relief.

We walked the length of the Egyptian Hall and turned in the Assyria Exhibit by walking between the winged Lions.  By Assyria the crowd had begun to thin and we able to stroll through the Nimrud gallery of stone relief carvings.  My big take away was the sheer labor of love which went into the stories told in stone.  The lion hunt panels really impressed me.  These series of panels depict the elements of a lion hunt from the hunters preparing for the hunt to the lions lying peacefully in the shade.  Finally in the last panel a lioness struggles to escape the hunters, arrows protruding from her back and sides, her hind legs useless as she drags them along in her flight.  The relief so well done I could feel her pain and suffering and fear. 

The Assyrian sculpter telling the story was able to capture both the excitement and the pain of the hunt.  The Assyrian panels had come a long way from the flat two dimensional depictions of ancient Egypt.

I’m not sure how it happened but we found ourselves back through the Winged Lions into the Egyptian Exhibit.  A quick turn to the right through a couple of small rooms and we were at the beginning of the Greek Exhibit.

There were two highlights in the Greek Exhibit.   Their back story is as fascinating as the displays.

The first is in room 17 and it is the Nereid Monument.  The Nereid Monument is the tomb of Arbinas from the ancient city of Xanthos close to the current city of Fethiye, Turkey.   Arbinas ruled the Persian Empire from Xanthos from 390 to 370 BCE and the tomb was built as his burial place.  The tomb is thought to have fallen into ruin about the time Christianity began to grow when it is believed local Christians destroyed the tomb for it precious metals.

Charles Fellows and George Scharf rediscovered the tomb during an archaeological expedition in the 1840s.  Fellows had the tomb dismantled and shipped to the British Museum where the original pieces have been assembled with additional pieces being fabricated as needed.

Leaving King Arbinas’ tomb behind, we walked through the doors into the Parthenon Galleries.   One look and we stopped wondering how the archeologists went about moving a tomb to how they moved a huge section of the Parthenon from Athens.

The Parthenon was a temple for the goddess Athena built on the Athenian Acropolis between 447 and 438 BCE.   Built to house a statue of Athena, the most striking features are the Frieze and Pediments sculptures.

The Frieze is a collection of marble plates (metopes) about 3 feet high and 4 feet long carved in high relief showing an annual parade going up the hill to the Parthenon to present a new robe to the statue inside.  Located just below the roof these plates completely circled the Parthenon.  Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, collected 247 feet of the Frieze sculptures that are mounted on the exhibits walls.  

At the far end of the room is another semi enclosed and raised room containing some of the sculptures from the East Pediment  (gable end under the Parthenon’s roof) depicting the gods watching the birth of Athena from Zeus’ head. 

The Parthenon also had 92 additional marble reliefs depicting a battle between centaurs and humans.   Fifteen of the 92 sculptures are mounted in the room with the Pediment sculptures.

Stepping back from the exhibit for a moment you can see the statues and reliefs in a new perspective.  These life size statues look like they could turn to you and give you a smile.  Their relaxed poses show they do not take themselves seriously but seem to be happy to spend a moment telling a story of one of their own.  While the Selene Horse on the far end of the Pediment looks to be saying, “how ridiculous” and would rather be anyplace else than on a temple.

By far one of the most interesting places we visited, it is impossible to see much of the museum in the two hours we spent there.  If fact we barely touched the surface, but we did receive a perspective on the lives of three early civilizations that are fundamental in shaping our world of today.

Thank You for sharing this experience with me.  Leave a comment or send me a note.  I will be happy to hear from you.  Thanks Again.  Rob