Saturday, June 16, 2007

The British Museum's Breathtaking Great Court

The British Museum’s central courtyard, dubbed the Queen Elizabeth 2 Great Court, is a vast foyer beneath a curving glass roof at the heart of the building. You have to see it to believe it. It definitely has a 'wow' factor. Like a popular city square, it’s a great area to just hang out with its cafes, museum shops, artifacts and lots of benches along the courtyard's perimeter. In the center is the rotunda of the famous Reading Room (closed on the day I visited). A staircase winds around the rotunda, leading up to the Court Restaurant and upper galleries. From the courtyard, signs point off north, south, east and west to the various galleries of the British Museum’s vast collection of artifacts from Africa, Asia, Egypt, the Americas, Europe, Greece and Rome.
The Great Court is two acres and the largest covered square in Europe. When I explored the museum back in 1993, this courtyard was closed off and apparently was so for 150 years until December 2000. The court is so huge that it does not seem crowded compared to the people packed into the museum galleries. However the best time to visit the museum is in the morning especially if you would like to see the popular collections. Pictured above is the Great South Front which was completed in 1852 and is where the main entrance to the museum is located. Pictured below is the Greek room with the Elgin Marbles (artificats from the Parthenon) along all walls of gallery. Below that is a detail of the artifact.

The museum is vast so visit with a focus on certain artifacts or rooms. The top attractions include the Rosetta Stone, statues and mummies in the Egyptian Gallery; the winged lions in the Assyrian rooms; and the infamous Elgin Marbles and artifacts in the Greek room. Since the weather outside was still rather bleak, I walked into the Egyptian and Greek rooms to gaze at the amazing display. The Egyptian room is the oldest of the museums galleries and was constructed between 1804-1808. I returned to the museum later in the week to do some postacard writing in the Great Court. The museum shop sells both postcards and international postage stamp books (four stamps).

The Gallery Cafe is a good restaurant for casual fare. Least crowded at opening and during the late afternoon, the atmosphere can make for a relaxing meal. The museum is open daily from 10:00am-5:30pm; 8:30pm Thursday & Friday (certain galleries only open till 7:30pm). Admission is free but a donation of GBP3 is suggested. There is a fee to see special exhibitions. Located on Great Russell Street, the nearest tube station is Tottenham Court Road. More information at Pictured below is the Nereid Momument (a monumental tomb) and Egyptian sculpture gallery.


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