Tuesday, January 15, 2013
The British Museum opened in London on January 15, 1759, as both a museum and a library dedicated to human history and culture, in a mansion on the site where it currently stands. Today’s grand neo-classical building was begun in the 1820s, built around a Great Court. The vast collection spans more than two million years of human history and includes artifacts such as the Rosetta Stone (the code-breaker for Egyptian hieroglyphics), antiquities from ancient Persia and Mesopotamia, surviving parts of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the sole surviving copy of Beowulf, and drawings of Michelangelo. The museum is famous for its stunning but controversial Elgin Marbles (friezes pictured), removed from the Parthenon and other Acropolis buildings between 1801 and 1812 by the 7th Earl of Elgin (British ambassador to the Ottomans). In 1816 the sculptures were displayed in the museum and later placed in the specially built Duveen Gallery.