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The British Museum

In 1754 the British Museum acquired Montagu House in Bloomsbury, and it remains on this site today. The core of today's building, including the great south front, was designed in 1823 by Sir Robert Smirke (1780–1867) in Greek Revival style, but not completed until 1852. Following the departure to St Pancras of the Museum's library departments in 1998, now the British Library, the bookstacks surrounding Sydney Smirke's round Reading Room were dismantled and a new floor constructed across the courtyard. This was then roofed over to provide the largest covered square in Europe. The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, designed by architect Lord Foster of Thames Bank, was opened in December 2000.

The origins of the British Museum lie in the will of the physician, naturalist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753). Sloane wanted his collection of more than 71,000 objects, library and herbarium to be preserved intact after his death. The foundation collections largely consisted of books, manuscripts and natural history with some antiquities (including coins and medals, prints and drawings) and ethnography (the study of cultures). The first famous antiquities, Sir William Hamilton's collection of Greek vases and other classical objects, were purchased in 1772. These were followed by such high profile acquisitions as the Rosetta Stone and other antiquities from Egypt (1802), the Townley collection of classical sculpture (1805), and the sculptures of the Parthenon, known as the Elgin Marbles (1816).
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