British Museum review (Aug 2011)
This is out-of-date! I have been here again since I wrote this review
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My idea of hell is spending all day in a big museum filled with rocks and busted cups and plates. That's basically what the British Museum is, a building filled with bits of busted junk. Statues with their arms missing, old vases with their handles snapped off, and a couple of old bones with some skin clinging to it. The ancients chucked all this stuff in the dustbin and 3,000 years later we dug it up and put it on display.
But I'm not a complete philistine. I can see they've got a few decent bits and pieces, so let me tell you about them. But let me tell you about the building first... when you enter you go straight into the best bit -- the Great Court. This is basically a big open courtyard with a glass roof on top, and the famous Reading Room is bang in the middle. All the different galleries lead off from the sides of the Great Court, and you can be walking around there for days if you don't know where you're going. The place is huge. And it's on three floors too, and you are walking up and down and left and right, in and out and all over the place. What makes it even more confusing is that some of the subjects span a couple of different floors, so when you think you've done the Egypt bit downstairs all of a sudden you find another six rooms upstairs. You really do need to look at the map to find out where everything is or you will miss all the good stuff. (2 quid from the shop, for a little flimsy piece of paper map!)
The Egypt gallery has some impressive pieces. They've got some huge monumental statues of the Pharoahs -- one of the heads which must be about 10 feet tall. They've got a lot of sarcophagi and wall inscriptions too. The most famous bit is the Rosetta Stone, which isn't much to look at but helped them decipher hieroglyphs. I liked it best because we nicked it off Napoleon. (I went to Apsley House last week and that was full of Napoleon's treasures too -- I think half of London must be filled with his stuff.)
I thought the whole argument for us keeping them in Britain was that they were well protected and won't be damaged. But they are all in bits and pieces anyway. There are very few figures which aren't already well-worn or busted. I suppose most of the damage occured when the dopey Turks were taking potshots at it with their cannons, but I don't think us chiselling them off the walls helped much. You can see that the entire frieze was literally chopped up into squares to carry it back. But who cares anyway, because they are ours now, ha ha! We stole them fair and square. I don't think the Greeks quite appreciate how much time and effort it must have taken us to dynamite those things off the walls and drag them back 1000 miles. That was no easy feat. And they want us to just give them back? Those crazy Greeks!
The bit I saved for last was the only thing that I really wanted to see -- the Reading Room. That's the big round room in the centre of the museum where Karl Marx wrote all his famous works. You've probably seen pictures of it before, with the curved walls covered in huge wooden bookcases and lots of little benches and desks in the middle lit by little lamps. Unfortunately the Reading Room has now been reserved as a space for their temporary exhibitions, and the only way of gaining entry is to pay the exhibition's entry fee. The exhibition that was showing when I was there was Treasures of Heaven -- 12 quid!
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