Early bird guided tour – Egyptian galleries and other treasures
Did you know almost six million people visited the British Museum last year? While it’s great that so many tourists and locals appreciate the wonderful collections of artefacts that we have here in London, those of us who know the British Museum well can sometimes feel that these millions have all come on the same day.
This is especially true if you’re in the most popular rooms, like the Parthenon marbles gallery and the Egyptian sculpture room where 80% of visitors go. While craning your neck to glimpse some interesting object over a bunch of selfie-stick tourists, I’m sure you have wondered what it would be like to have the place to yourself.
Well, with a new early morning tour from TakeWalks, you can. Their recently launched offering – VIP Private Access to the British Museum – Alone with the Rosetta Stone gets you in as part of a small group well before the crowds and gives you a chance to enjoy some the best parts it in peace and quiet.
Having met up with the guide, at 0845 you go inside the museum to the near-deserted Great Court, where you can really appreciate what a beautiful space it is.
One of the group has the privilege of unlocking the great double doors to the Egyptian sculpture room, then as they swing open you have your first sight of the wonderful statues with the world-famous Rosetta Stone at their heart. And for the next 75 minutes, they’re all yours to savour.
The sculptures on display include stylised depictions of pharaohs and gods, presided over by an imposing granite bust of Ramesses II. So far, so fairly familiar.
This though is where the TakeWalks guide really comes into his or her own, as starting with the Rosetta Stone, they explain how it was the key to deciphering Ancient Egypt’s hieroglyphics for the first time.
Then, to bring the stone statues to life, the guide not only explains their significance and meaning but mixes in fascinating background human interest and anecdotes.
Look out for the statue of a husband and wife, seated side by side holding hands. Unlike the robot-like poses we’re used to seeing, this is much more naturalistic, a sensitive portrayal of a loving couple.
As the guide will explain, for years nobody knew who they were but a when a bright archaeologist spotted that a pair of hands found at the tomb of Tutankhamun’s general, Horemheb, fitted the statue perfectly, the mystery was solved.
There’s time before the doors open to the public for you to explore the gallery, getting up close to the statues or taking pictures. Then, as the crowds rush in at 1000 and swarm around the cabinets, you realise how lucky you’ve been to have had the place to yourselves.
Moving on, you’re ahead of the crowd when you visit the Parthenon marbles and hear their story. Then on to the Assyrian galleries and the lamassu. These winged bulls with human heads stood at the gates to a city or palace and are massively impressive ancient statues.
Here again, the human element is brought to life, as the guide points out the games board scratched into the base by guards with time heavy on their hands. Upstairs in another gallery, you then see what they would have playing, the Royal Game of Ur beautifully preserved with counters and dice (and with replicas available from the gift shop…)
Time is given for independent exploration of the endlessly fascinating Ancient Egyptian mummies. From seeing the five thousand five hundred year old mummy of Gebelein Man, a pre-pharaoh burial, it’s on to see some of the British Museum’s non-Egyptian treasures. You visit the Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia before finishing up with Hoa Hakananai’a, one of the Easter Island moai.
TakeWalks only use the best guides and our group’s was the very authoritative and knowledgeable Nigel – who is on his way to prestigious Blue Badge status – and who gave us the best part of three exhilarating and stimulating hours.
Although the tour covers a number of set objects, what makes it different to many other tours is that (unlike those statues) it’s not set in stone and the guide can personalise it to include their own favourite pieces.
Alone with the Rosetta Stone is very much a premium tour but it really is well worth the outlay. You can book with TakeWalks on-line here – the tour is currently running for a few dates in September then on Thursdays and Fridays during October.
The British Museum
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3DG
Disclosure: We were guests of TakeWalks for the purpose of this feature. All content is editorially given.