The British Museum in London is one of the world’s largest and most important museums of human history and culture. It has more than seven million objects from all continents. They illustrate and document the story of human culture from its beginning to the present. As with all other national museums and art galleries in Britain, the Museum charges no admission fee.
The British Museum set up in 1753 and opened in 1759. It was the first museum in the world to be open to everyone. The museum gradually grew over the next two hundred years. It has nearly six million visitors a year and is the second most popular art museum in the world. Some of the museum’s most popular and important exhibits include the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.
The history of the British Museum began with the English physicist Hans Sloane, who died aged 93 in 1753. During his life, he had collected many important things from all around the world. When he died, he did not want his collection to be split up between his relatives. He sold his collection to the parliament of King George II. The parliament set up the British Museum to hold the collection. By the time he died, Sloane had collected over 80,000 objects from all over the world including Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Americas. The collection was mostly books and manuscripts. There were many important archaeological pieces included as well.
The government looked at many possible places to build the new museum, including Buckingham House, which later became Buckingham Palace. Eventually a building called Montagu House was chosen. The Museum opened on the 15th of January 1759, although all visitors had to be shown around by stewards. Over the years the museum began to concentrate more and more on historical objects and sculptures. For this reason they were given the Rosetta Stone by King George III in 1802. The Rosetta Stone had previously been important to French historians trying understand the Hieroglyph language written by the Ancient Egyptians. In 1816 the Museum acquired the Elgin Marbles from Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin. Elgin had taken them from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece several years earlier. Many people disagreed with the way Elgin took them from Greece. They compared his acts to looting and vandalism. People still argue about this issue today. In 1822 King George III donated the entire Royal Library to the museum. This contained over 65,000 books and pamphlets. In 1823 the original building was demolished and work began on new buildings to hold the ever growing collection. Some of the space was freed up when the National Gallery opened in 1824, as many of the Museum’s paintings and drawings were moved there.
Much of the 1950s was spent fixing the parts of the Museum destroyed by the bombing, and bringing back the pieces that had been taken away. During all this time the collection continued to get bigger, although space was slowly running out for all the books being brought in. The British Library was set up in 1973 to deal with this problem. In 1972 the Museum was loaned the Tutankhamuncollection from the Museum of Cairo. They held a big exhibition called ‘The Treasures of Tutankhamun’ and it attracted over 1.5 million people to come and see it. In 1998 the central courtyard, which had been unused before, was turned into the Great Court with the Reading Room at its centre. The Great Court has over 2 acres of space under its roof. This makes it the largest covered public space inEurope. It was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in January 2000. Since then the Museum has collected more things to do withhistory, rather than more modern pieces. They now have a large collection of Roman, British, Ancient Greek and Ancient Egyptian artefacts, as well as objects from many other cultures and times around the world.
Admission and opening times
Free, open daily 10.00–17.30
The Museum is closed on 1 January and 24, 25 & 26 December, but open every other day of the year.
Gallery opening times
Museum galleries are open daily 10.00–17.30, and most are open until 20.30 on Fridays. Closing starts from 17.20 (20.20 on Fridays).
Great Court opening times
The Great Court, including the Information Desk, is open daily 09.00–18.00 and until 20.30 on Fridays (except Good Friday). The Ticket Desk is open daily from 09.00-17.00 and until 19:45 on Fridays (except Good Friday).
Fridays open late
The Museum is open until 20.30 on Fridays, except Good Friday.
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