The museum was established in 1753 and was opened to the public on 15 January 1759. It was based on the collection of Sir Hans Sloane, a physician and collector who wanted the artefacts he'd acquired to last after his death. His collection included over 400,000 books and antiques from Greece, Rome, Egypt, Middle East and America.
The British Museum was first located in the Montagu house, a sixteenth-century mansion. However, this building soon became too small for the expanding collection acquired by the museum and through private donations.
In 1782, the collection grew considerably, including numerous Greek and Roman artefacts. Later, in 1801, the museum obtained Egyptian relics, including the impressive Rosetta Stone (Famous for its role in translating the Egyptian hieroglyphs). In 1823, George IV donated his father’s entire library, making it necessary to move the museum to another building.
In 1852 the new building, which had been constructed in the Greek Revival style, was completed. The British Museum is still currently housed in this impressive edifice designed by Sir Robert Smirke.
To make more room for new relics the natural history collections were moved in 1887 to what is now the Natural History Museum. Furthermore, in 1973 the library became part of a new organisation.
The museum has divided the seven million objects it houses according to where they come from. It is so large that it would take over a day to see all the exhibitions. Nevertheless, to see the most essential works of art all you’ll need is a morning.
The Great Court in the centre of the museum is definitely worth visiting. This square is covered by a glass roof and houses the Reading Room, which used to be the main reading room of the British Library.
It is possible to find from Chinese porcelain to prehistoric and medieval antiques and coins and medallions of several periods in the museum’s different halls. The most remarkable halls of the British Museum include the Ancient Egypt (the best collection of Egyptian artefacts after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo) and Greek and Roman sections.
A must-see museum
The British Museum is the most entertaining museum in London, especially for those who are not art fans and prefer to discover world history in an alternative way. The admission is free, and on Thursday and Friday the museum closes later than most others, making it the perfect way to spend a cold evening in London.
Open daily: 10 am – 5:30 pm. Friday open till 8:30 pm (only certain galleries)
Closed: 1 January, Good Friday, 24, 25, 26 December.
Admission is free.