The British Museum is one of the world's landmark museums, housing collections that have been built up across two-and-a-half centuries, from every corner of the globe. The museum building itself is both vast and beautiful. It was designed to resemble a grand Greek temple, updated recently with an elegant lattice-roof over its central courtyard. The British Museum is especially well-known for its numerous iconic pieces from antiquity – the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Anglo-Saxon splendour of Sutton Hoo.
It was founded in 1753, and its treasures swelled as the British Empire expanded, funnelling the finest archaeological finds back to the capital. Many of these are now somewhat controversial, with countries like Greece asking for the return of its Parthenon friezes and Elgin marbles. But there's no doubting that its treasures are being housed in the grandest, and most sympathetic of fashions in the British Museum.
The Department of Ancient Egypt has over 100,000 pieces, with 140 mummies – including Queen Cleopatra – and the famous Rosetta Stone, which helped unlock the mystery of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. There are also colossal granite busts of pharaohs like Ramesses II. The Department of Greece and Rome has one of only six remaining Caryatids, as well as pieces from two of the Seven Wonders of the World. And the giant Persian winged-lions of Assyria are astounding sight to behold.
At one point, the British Museum had the world's most important library collections, in the Reading Room in its central courtyard. It was accessible to scholars and writers like Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi, and Rudyard Kipling. Its book-lined shelves, beneath a splendidly domed glass-roof, are still open to visitors – although most of the books are now in the British Library in St. Pancras. The Reading Room has also housed exhibitions of Chinese Terracotta Armies, and the religious treasures of Medieval Europe.
The grandeur of many of the pieces speak for themselves, even behind glass cases. But the British Museum is also keen to let you hold a little piece of history. Many of the galleries have rooms set aside for handling ancient artifacts, a wonderful way of getting you closer to history. Come to the British Museum, and you'll find history has come to life.