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British Museum

A storehouse of unrivalled treasures, the British Museum collection is one of the world's most comprehensive records of man's achievements. It was founded in 1753 following the bequest to the Nation of Sir Hans Sloane's collection of books and antiquities; many other collections followed and the original building Montague House soon became too small. Designs for the present imposing building were prepared by Robert Smirke in 1824, the famous former Reading Room, added by Sidney Smirke 1853-7. The Natural History Collection moved to South Kensington 1880-3 and since 1963 has been a completely separate institution.

The principal departments are: Egyptian Antiquities: including the 'Rosetta Stone' sculptures, mummies, wall paintings, funerary furniture, papyri, jewellery and scarabs. Western Asiatic Antiquities: including the colossal Assyrian sculptures, Hittite, Babylonian and Sumerian antiquities and the Room of Writing with cylinders inscribed in reverse for imprinting on seals. Greek and Roman Antiquities: including the 'Chatsworth' Head of Apollo, the Elgin Marbles - sculptures from the Parthenon Frieze and pediments, the Portland Vase. Medieval and Later Antiquities: including the Anglo-Saxon Royal burial ship treasure from Sutton Hoo, the Lewis Chessman, the 14th century Royal Gold Cup, the Lyte Jewel. Horological and Coins and Medals galleries. Prehistoric and Romano-British Antiquities: including the 4th century silver tableware Mildenhall Treasure. Oriental Antiquities: including finds from the civilizations of the Far East from the Neolithic period onwards. Prints and Drawings: one of the great collections of European prints and drawings, including the Turner collection of watercolours, variously displayed in exhibitions of selected works.

The British Library established in 1973, moved to its own new building in 1997. The famous circular Reading Room, is now the centrepiece of the restored inner courtyard, a spectacular covered public square 'The Great Court' with restaurant, café, museum shops, and education facilities; giving access both through the museum and between the surrounding galleries.

Special exhibitions (admission charge) are mounted throughout the year.

See Also: British Library, Sir John Soane's Museum, Natural History Museum

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