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Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The recently revamped Ashmolean Museum makes a stylish setting for a world of treasures

Posted: 20 July 2011
by Helen McKay-Ferguson

A bastion of erudition sitting squarely amid the hallowed halls and spires of the Oxford colleges, the Ashmolean Museum lays claim to the lofty title of Britain’s first public museum – it was founded in 1683. In the intervening centuries, the museum has accrued a wealth of treasures, from ancient Grecian coins to fine Florentine porcelains and an impressive collection of paintings. But this is no drab institution where artefacts are shrouded in dust and gloom. The Ashmolean has moved with the times, and in 2009 reopened after extensive renovation. A light-filled atrium runs through the heart of the building, with the museum’s five floors connected by glass walkways and snaking staircases. Thanks to its open-plan format, visitors are afforded enticing glimpses of treasures on other floors (the effect is a little like that of John Lewis’s on Oxford Street, although the only price-tags to be found here are in the museum gift shop). 

Star attractions The CAST gallery is populated by a wealth of bronze, plaster (and sometimes sadly headless and limbless) figures hailing from the ruins of ancient Greece and Rome. Treasues from the Eastern world include a intricate ivory chest from Sri Lanka, a Mughal carpet knotted from the fine hair found on the throats of goats and a fabulous robe gifted by the ruler of Kashgar to British tea planter and explorer Robert Shaw.

Family X-Factor The museum’s unfusty feel will make little historians feel right at home  and there’s a variety of gallery trails – including Counting, Elephant Search and Various Vases – to help you find your way around (print them off and bring them with you). The museum’s basement café fits the bill for a quick pit stop. 

Not many people know this but… Not just the oldest museum in Britain, the Ashmolean may well be the oldest museum in the world. 

Don’t forget to pack A drawing book and pencils so children can make a record of any object that takes their fancy.

Special events Join a mini tour every Friday between July 29–August or drop in for a themed summer craft activity:

Roman Discovery
July 27, 28

Printing Power
August 3, 4

Archaeological Adventure In Ancient Greece
August 10, 11

Brush-Free Painting
August 17, 18

All About Money
August 24, 25

Cost Free.

Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH.

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