Journeys of Discovery
Over the summer holidays you may have trotted off to a m useum or two. If you were unlucky, the museum would have been a huge , poorly lit building with m ysterious unlabelled exhibits in a maze of halls. If you’d been lucky ho wever, the museum trip would have been a voyage of discovery, perhaps taking you back thousands of y ears to the time Cleopatra was queening it o ver Egypt or to a period when the gr eat painters of Europe were creating their masterpieces. In these m useums you would have moved inside well-lit halls that had interesting posters and e ven videos about the objects displa yed, heard stories through an audio guide and perhaps even played some ‘discovery’ games.
As you can imagine , there are many kinds of museums — good, horrible, weird and even wacky. Belt up f or a whirlwind tour of the w orld’smuseums and their histor y!
What’s in a name?
The word museum comes from the Latin word ‘mouseion’, which meant ‘seat of the Muses’ or a place for study. The oldest museums on earth were actually libraries. Many were also private collections of rich people and could be viewed only on the invitation of the owner. Museums that were open to the public date back just 600-700 years.
After getting off to a slow start as a species, we were pretty quick to set up as many museums as possible. Today there are over 55,000 museums in 202 countries!
Why do we have museums?
Museums are places where important objects and art created by people are displayed. Some museums help us understand how people lived a long time ago, the art they created and the things they believed in. Others specialise in one topic — for example, there are museums that teach us about the history of crafts and textiles created over the ages — like the Calico Museum of Textile in Ahmedabad. Museums devoted to a writer would exhibit objects that belonged to the writer and early copies of books written by him or her. You even have museums created around characters in books — like the Tintin Museum in Brussels!
Kinds of Museums
The Louvre in Paris is one of the most visited museums in the world. It has an important collection of paintings including the famous ‘Mona Lisa’, painted by Leonardo da Vinci.
There are museums that focus on one specific theme or object — for example, the Calico Museum mentioned earlier in this article is a very special museum on textiles. In Delhi, Sulabh International has set up a toilet museum that studies the evolution of the toilet over the last 4000 years! (Read more about these off-beat museums in our Places to Visit article.)
Museums about Books and Writers
The Sherlock Holmes Museum in London is dedicated to the famous storybook detective Sherlock Holmes. It has clothes and objects — like the pipe and deerstalker hat — made famous in the books.
Nowadays you don’t even need to leave the comfort of your home to visit a museum. Online websites like Google’s Art Project make it possible to ‘virtually’ visit famous museums in Europe and the United States and view masterpieces over the Internet.
Did you know?
Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, has more museums than any other place in the world. At last count, the city had 126 museums.
Weird and Wonderful
There are some truly quirky (odd) and strange museums on our planet
- Tokyo has a museum devoted to instant noodles
- Belgium has a museum that’s all about French fries
- England even has a museum devoted to dog collars
As you can see, there are many, many different types of museums. Each of them convey mini-chapters of man’s story on earth — through what he said, wrote or created. Next time you visit a museum, look for those stories and you’ll never be disappointed in a museum visit.
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