Someone in London deserves a medal. I am not speaking of the upcoming Olympics or of some Londoner’s brave behavior during WW II, I am talking about a cultural decision to make many of the museums in London free. The first time I traveled to London I did not know this and I purchased a “London Pass” which got me into a few of the attractions that had an entrance fee (Tower of London, Queen’s Gallery), but when I tried to use my pass at most of the museums (National Gallery, Tate Modern, Natural History, Victoria and Albert) I discovered that these cultural landmarks were there for everyone to enjoy without having to spend a quid, a pound, or a guinea.
These museums are not free because they suck, the are free because someone decided that you shouldn’t have to pay to see some of the greatest stuff in the world. My favorite museum in London is The British Museum.
There are people who are probably saying as they read this, “Well, the reason the museum is free is because all the stuff inside is stolen from somewhere else.” Sure, Elgin is not going to get a warm reception in Greece any time soon, but I don’t think he cares since he has been dead for many years, but most of England doesn’t care either. It is that British attitude that is both admirable and maddening. For all their cultural awareness and preservation of the arts, there is an underlying, unspoken message for people who don’t like it, “We don’t care what you think.”
The greatness of the museum collection is unquestioned. The Elgin Marbles are impressive, the Rosetta Stone sits behind a big glass case and is always surrounded by people, the Egyptian rooms are impressive, but what I like best about the museum is that two great poems were inspired by visits here.
There are probably other reasons to like the museum, but each time I have visited I find myself circulating in the same general area: enter the Great Court, take a left and wander for a couple hours.
Now the British Museum is not everyone’s favorite place, in fact some people don’t like anything about the museum other than the food.
So, if you are a lover of chocolate frogs or reminders of the greatness of man’s ancient cultures the British Museum is a must see, and it is one of my favorite places.