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The most famous museums have always drawn millions of visitors, and for many they become the main reason to visit a city. Museums are the keepers of the legacy of mankind's finest creative moment, and sometimes its most destructive moment. The collections can vary, from antiquities to modern art and space rockets to the evidences of the darkest pages in history. For some of the famous pieces of art, you can check the famous statues article.
The District Six Museum, 25A Buitenkant Street, handles the history of District Six, an area near the centre of Cape Town.
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The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo is home to many fascinating ancient Egyptian artifacts.
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Robben Island, located just off the coast from Cape Town, is famous for being where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held during the apartheid period. Some of the tour guides were themselves political prisoners so they have plenty of insight about what went on there. Tours run several times a day, every day, from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (+27 (0)21 413-4200). Tickets can be purchased online as well at the above website. Trips leave at 9:00am, 11:00am and 1:00pm and tours take 3.5 hours including the ferry ride to and from the island. The cost is a rather steep R220.
The British Museum is one of the world's great museums. Much of its content was looted over years of colonialism. It has especially notable Assyrian, Celtic, Egyptian, Greek and Roman collections, and it also houses the Elgin Marbles from the Acropolis of Athens, and the famous Rosetta Stone. Its Great Court is of architectural interest in its own right, and the old reading room of British Library is situated at the centre of the Great Court.
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Entrance to the British Museum is free, except for special exhibitions where advance reservations are advisable as they are normally exceptional and very popular. A good guide book can be bought at the bookshop, which helps you to find your way through the collections.
Bygdøy is a peninsula in Oslo and well known as the museum district of the capital of Norway. There are several interesting museums. The FRAM museum tells the story of Norwegian polar expeditions and housing the famous polar ship Fram. The Kontiki museum is a tribute to the explorations of Thor Heyerdahl, a famous Norwegian scientist, adventurer and champion of the environment. It also houses some of the vessels Heyerdahl sailed in. And finally there are also the Viking museum and Folk museum on Bygdøy.
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The Uffizi collection of Primitive and Renaissance paintings holds various masterpieces: including works by Giotto, Botticelli, Mantegna, Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and Caravaggio. German, Dutch and Flemish masters are also represented with important works by Rembrandt and Rubens. The museum is housed in the Palazzo degli Uffizi from where the museum takes its name. This Palazzo was built to be office buildings for the Florence government between 1560 and 1581. Granduca Francisco de’ Medici (son of Cosimo de' Medici) establihed a gallery on the top floor of the building, and from then on the collection became bigger and bigger. In 1743 the collection was handed to the city of Florence, by the last heir of the de' Medici family: Anna Maria Luisa. In the same year the Gallaria Galleria degli Uffizi was founded.
In 1993, a car bomb destroyed a piece of the Pallazo degli Uffizi, and a couple of paintings were destroyed, while others suffered great damage. It is rumoured the mafia was behind this bombing, but it was never comfirmed. In 2006, the exhibition space of the Uffizi was enlarged from 8,000 m² to 13,000m².
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The Galleria dell'Accademia is particularly famous for its sculptures by Michelangelo: the Prisoners (4 unfinished scupltures, which were meant for the tomb of Pope Julius II), statue of St. Matthew (also unfinished) and, famously, the statue of David which was relocated here from Piazza della Signoria in 1873. When David was moved to the Galleria, the intention was to create a Michelangelo museum to celebrate the 400th birthday of the artist. This however didn't materialise. Apart from the pieces mentioned before, only one other piece in the museum, Pietà di Palestrina, is thought to be partly created or crafted by Michelangelo, although experts are not certain about his contribution. Besides the sculptures of Michelangelo, the Galleria also showcases several Renaissance paintings from the 15th and 16th century by the likes of Botticelli and Ghirlandaio, numerous other sculptures and plaster casts (notably Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women), and a collection of Russian Icons. Because of the popularity of David, there are often long lines. It is recommended to book tickets before your visit.
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The Guggenheim in Bilbao is a wonderful museum located along the river Nervion, perhaps better known for its design than its collection. The museum was designed by world famous architect Frank Gehry and is considered one of the most spectacular Deconstructivism buildings in the world. The exhibitions in the museum change often, and consist mainly of collections of modern art, Avant-garde installations and non-objective art by Spanish and international artists. Often, the exhibitions are also thematic. The museum's permanent collection is small, mostly 20th century art, with little traditional painting and sculptures. The highlight of the permanent collection is The Matter of Time, which is a series of steel sculptures by Richard Serra, housed in the Arcelor Gallery. The Guggenheim Bilbao is one of several museums under the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
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The Hermitage Museum is one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world, located by the Neva river in St. Petersburg. Although founded in 1764, it only opened to the public in 1852. Its collection holds over 3 million pieces, of which around 65,000 are on display. The highlights include a number of paintings by Rembrandt, Madonnas by Leonardo da Vinci, sculptures by Canova and several paintings by Matisse. The museum spreads out over 6 buildings along Palace Embankment, including the Winter Palace, the former residence of the Russian Emperors. Of these, only 4 are partially open to visitors. To avoid standing in line, tickets to the Hermitage can be bought online. In recent years, a number of dependencies of the Hermitage have been established, to include the Hermitage Amsterdam in Amsterdam and Hermitage-Kazan Exhibition Center in Kazan, Tatarstan, while Guggenheim Hermitage Museum in Vilnius is scheduled for opening in 2011.
Kumu, an abbreviation of the Estonian "Kunstimuuseum" (art museum), is located near the Kadriorg Park in Tallinn and is one of the best in the country and has even been chosen the European Museum of the Year in 2008. This art museum, the biggest of the 5 branches in the country and even the biggest of the entire Baltic region, presents both permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. The main collection covers Estonian art from the 18th century onwards, including works from the occupations period (1940–1991). Temporary exhibitions include both foreign and Estonian modern and contemporary art.
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The Louvre is one of the biggest and most famous museums in the world. Housed in the historic Palais du Louvre, the museum was opened in 1793, making it one of the oldest museums in the world. Among the collection you will find the most famous portrait ever created: Mona Lisa (La Joconde). But the Louvre is much more that just the Mona Lisa. The collection of the museum consists of 8 core collections: Egyptian Antiquities; Near Eastern Antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities; Islamic Arts; Sculptures; Decorative Arts; Paintings; and Prints and Drawings. Notable exhibits include famous sculptures of the Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the renowned Code of Hammurabi, and paintings of Delacroix (Liberty Leading the People), Vermeer (The Lacemaker, The Astronomer), da Vinci (Virgin and Child with St Anne, St John the Baptist), and Velázquez (Infanta Maria Margareta). The Louvre draws millions of visitors each year.
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The National Gallery in London houses over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century. The collection is small in comparison with many European national galleries. The gallery started with a handful of privately acquired paintings and subsequently expanded, much of it through private donations. Notable works include paintings by Leornado da Vinci, Michelangelo, Canaletto, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh and JMW Turner, and the collection belongs to the British public. Entry to the main (permanent) collection is free.
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The Musée d'Orsay is best known for its amazing collection of masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism (the largest in the world), two art movements that took off in Paris. The works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Gauguin and Van Gogh are all on exhibit here. Sculptures by Rodin, Gauguin, Cavelier and Claudel can also be found here. Other photographs and decorative arts from similar time span (late 19th century/early 20th century) are also present. The museum is housed in a former train station, the Gare d'Orsay, which is an impressive Beaux-Arts edifice, built in time for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. Outside the museum near the main entrance, a number of sculptures are also on display. At the museum square, there is a series of 6 allegorical sculptures representing South America, North America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Africa, which were originally made for 1878 Exposition Universelle. Additionally, there is also a series of bronze animal sculptures by the stairs, including a horse, a rhino and an elephant.
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The Pergamon Museum has an antiquity collection consisting of pieces from Greece and the Middle East. It houses three main reconstructions of monumental buildings that incorporate original pieces/parts from the excavation sites: the Pergamon Altar, the Gateway of Miletus, and the Gate of Ishtus. The Pergamon Altar came from a temple that stood in the Ancient Greek city of Pergamon. It has a 113-metre-long frieze, depicting the battle between the Gods and the giants. Although the frieze it not intact it gives a good impression how it looked in ancient days. To help visitors even more, the missing pieces are drawn on the walls. The Gateway of Miletus and the Gate of Ishtus were reconstructed from pieces that were excavated under German supervision from sites of ancient cities of Miletus and Babylon. The museum also houses the Museum of Islamic Arts and the Middle East Museum. Parts of the original collection were taken away after WWII by the Russians, and can now be found in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The museum is the most visited art museum in Germany.
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The Museo del Prado has an excellent collection of paintings from old masters, spanning the period between the 14th until the 19th century (all other pieces were moved to the Reina Sofía in 1992). Located at the Golden Triangle of Art (along Paseo del Prado), the collection was curated based on the former Spanish Royal Collection. There is a special emphasis on the Spanish masters, like El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Murillo and Goya. Other European masters are also featured. Rubens, Bosch, Rafael, Titian, Caravaggio and Rembrandt all have a place in the collection. Besides the paintings which form the core collection of the Prado, the museum also boasts prints and drawings, coins, decorative arts and a collection of around 700 statues.
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Opened in 1990, and enlarged in 2005, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is dedicated mainly to Spanish modern artists. It has an excellent collection of works of significant Spanish artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Juan Gris and Joan Miró but to name a few. Certainly, the most notable painting in this museum is Guernica by Picasso. In the same room you will also find studies that he made, to be able to create this painting. A small number of works by foreign artists can also be found, including Delauney, Tanguy and Francis Bacon. Besides the museum there is also a library and an auditorium where concerts are staged on a regular basis.
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Although the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam is mostly famous for its Golden Age paintings, the collection of the Rijksmuseum includes everything, from intricate doll houses, to armours and weaponries, a collection of Asian arts, to ship interiors. The main museum building is currently under restoration and renovation works are scheduled until 2013. A small collection is on exhibit in the newly refurbished Philips Wing of the building. The tourist highlight is Rembrandt's painting De compagnie van kapitein Frans Banning Cocq en luitenant Willem van Ruytenburgh, better known as the Night Watch. Other notable Dutch masters whose works are on display include Johannes Verneer, Jan Steen and Frans Hals. The building itself is an elegant monument incorporating both Gothic and Renaissance elements, and is lavishly decorated.
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The Tate collection occupies two buildings in London, the Tate Britain which was the first established Tate gallery network and the Tate Modern, which opened in 2000.
The Tate Britain has a fine collection of British work from medieval times to the present day, particularly notable for its Turner collection, as the annual Turner Prize exhibition is hosted by Tate Britain.
The Tate Modern has the largest collection of Modern Art in Europe, and it is spectacularly located in the old Bankside power station across the Millennium bridge on the Southbank. The collection at Tate Modern is organised thematically. When it was first open, the collection was divided into four broad groups: History/Memory/Society; Nude/Action/Body; Landscape/Matter/Environment; and Still Life/Object/Real Life. It has since been reorganised and the current layout (2009) are: Material Gestures (which focus are abstraction and expressionism), Poetry and Dream (which explores attitudes to sexuality), Energy and Process (which centres on Arte Povera), and States of Flux (which brings together Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism and Pop Art). The turbine hall hosts a series of temporary large-scale modern art installations.
The Titanic Belfast is a new museum that opened early April 2012, exactly 100 years after the famous Titanic made here first voyage and ran into an iceberg and sank, killing hundreds of people. The Titanic Belfast museum is a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland and Wolff shipyard in the city's Titanic Quarter. It also tells the stories of the Titanic's sister ship RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic. The building contains more than 12,000 square metres of floor space, most of which is occupied by a series of galleries, plus private function rooms and community facilities. There are tours as well and safe at least 1 to 2 hours for a visit to this fabulous museum. Full prices for adults are GBP 13.50, but seniors, children and students can visit with discounts. The museum is open all year round, except 24-26 December, from 9:00am to 7:00pm April to September, and 10:00am to 5:00pm October to March.
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The Van Gogh Museum harbours the world's largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh, and is set up in a chronological order. The most famous works on display include the Potato Eaters, the Bedroom in Arles, the Sunflowers and the Wheatfields of Auvers-sur-Oise. Several self-portraits are also on exhibit. The collection of works in the museum gives a good impression of the development of Vincent van Gogh as a painter, from the early days when he painted outdoor scenes in Drenthe to the vivid colours of Post-Impressionism of his last paintings, made while he was in a mental institution in 1890. Besides some 200 paintings and 500 drawings, the museum also has a collection of 700 letters written by Vincent, mainly to his brother Theo. The recent east wing of the museum, opened in 1999, has exhibitions on artists whose life or work are related to Van Gogh's.
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The Vasa museum is a very special maritime museum. It is build around its main piece: The Vasa, the only almost complete original warship from the 17th century on display in the world. The warship Vasa sank in 1628 on its maiden voyage after only a few kilometres in the harbour of Stockholm. The ship was salvaged in 1961 and could be seen in an improvised museum, until the new museum was opened in 1990. In the museum there are guided tours, and it is recommended to watch the film about the ship that is shown. Besides the ship itself, the collection also shows how it was built, how lives would have been on board and why it sunk. The museum also showcases four other floating museum ships: the ice breaker Sankt Erik (launched 1915), the lightvessel Finngrundet (1903), the torpedo boat Spica (1966) and the rescue boat Bernhard Ingelsson (1944).
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Even ignoring the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museums are some of the most important museums in the world. The Vatican has a superb gallery, excellent Roman and Etruscan collections, and plenty more. Be sure not to miss the apartments that were decorated by Raphael. There is too much to see if you plan on going to the museums for one day. If you go one day, you just have time for the highlights. The highlight of the visit to the museums is The Sistine Chapel, known for Michelangelo's two most famous masterpieces: the ceiling, depicting numerous scenes from the Old Testament and the Last Judgement, occupying the entire wall behind the altar.
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A trip to Alcatraz Island should be at the very top of every visitor's agenda to San Francisco. Fascinating history and amazing views make this a most memorable day. A highly recommended automated walking tour brings the experience to life. For a more eerie take on Alcatraz Island, pay a little more and do a tour after sunset at night. Check the official Alcatraz website for more information or if you want to, Alcatraz Cruises offers boat trips and is the official ticket company for the museum entrance fees and boat transfers. There is also some flora and fauna to be found on the island, but the prison museum is the highlight you are visiting for. To avoid disappointment, buy your tickets online in advance, especially during high season and weekends.
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The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the premier art museums in the world. The collection contains rare and famous works by Monet, Rene Marquette, Picasso and countless others. The collection has more of a focus on late 19th century and early 20th century art. Although there is a very good modern collection, including works by Chuck Close, and ancient art section, including some excellent ancient Chinese and Mayan works. For children there is a nice touch gallery in the basement next to a nice miniature gallery and there is also a medieval armor collection in the back wing.
The Field Museum is one of the best natural history museums in the world. With plenty of interactive exhibits for children and lots of information for adults this is a win-win location for a family visit. Some of the highlights include an excellent dinosaur and early mammal fossil collection. There is also an excellent collection of artifacts from people around the world. The massive size of the museum guarantees that you can go back to it a dozen times and still see completely different exhibits. The museum is also a major research institution that is doing ground breaking work.
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The Metropolitan Museum of Art, more famously known as The Met, houses a collection of paintings and sculptures from all over the world and from the old masters to modern artists. It also has a huge collection of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Egyptian, African, Asiatic, Oceanic and Islamic pieces of art in the collection. There is also a collection of musical instruments on display. In a separate wing of the museum you can find the Robert Lehman Collection, which was a private collection passed on to the museum after his death. It contains several works of famous artists like El Greco, Goya, Botticelli and Rembrandt.
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MoMA, as the Museum of Modern Art is usually called, is an amazing modern art museum with leading artists showing their work. A renovation project carried out between 2002 and 2004 nearly doubled the space for MoMA's exhibitions. Amongst the artists on display are famous names like van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, Mondrian, Warhol and Bacon. Besides paintings it also has a collection of films, photographs, multimedia, performance art, design and architecture.
The National Anthropological Museum in Mexico City is a world-class museum situated around an amazing central courtyard. The museum was opened in 1910, the museum moved two times, before settling at the present day building at the Avenida Paseo de la Reforma in 1964. It has an amazing collection featuring the ancient and present day cultures of Mexico, which is divided between the Archeology section and the ethnography section. The Museum’s center piece is the sculpture of Tláloc, the Aztec god of water, which is placed over a fountain located next to Avenida Paseo de la Reforma.
The Smithsonian holds 19 museums, 9 research centers and the National Zoo. Combined this makes the largest museum and research facilty in the world. Besides the 16 museums in Washington, D.C., there are also several Smithsonian museums in other states in the USA. Amongst the museums are the museums for American History, Natural History and the National Air and Space museum. In 2015 the new National Museum of African American History and Culture will be opened in Washington, D.C.
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The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is a museum that focuses on art from the 20th and the 21st centuries. The collection was brought together by combining several smaller privately owned collections. The collections of Solomon R. Guggenheim and his niece Peggy Guggenheim together with the collections of Justin K. Thannhauser and Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo form the focal point of the Guggenheim.
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The Australian Museum is the oldest museum in Australia, which specializes in natural history and anthropology. It has collections of vertebrate and invertebrate zoology, as well as mineralogy, paleontology, and anthropology. Besides the exhibitions, it is involved in indigenous studies and several community programs. Plans for the museum were already conceived in 1821, and a small museum was actually started then. After moving around in the early years, the museum founds its home at the present location, opposite Hyde Park, in 1849. Architect James Barnet built the museum, which opened for the public in 1857. In the 1950s several new buildings were added, and the exhibitions were modernized. In the last decades the museum added new fields of research to its research centers.
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The Niterói Contemporary Art Museum is located in the Brazilian city of Niterói in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The city can be reached by a bridge from Rio de Janeiro. It was completed and opened in 1996 and the design of the museum is by the famous Oscar Niemeyer. The shape of the museum resembles a saucer/UFO. From the viewing gallery you can see Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro and the Sugarloaf Mountain.
The Sao Paulo Museum of Art houses a huge collection of Western art, as well as a large collection of Brazilian art and smaller collections of African and Asian arts and collections of Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek and Roman antiquities as well as pre-Columbian artifacts. Since 1969 the museum has been located at the present location, on the Paulista Avenue. The building itself is considered to be one of best examples of Brazilian modern architecture. Amongst the highlights are paintings by Raphael, Botticelli, Monet, Renoir, van Gogh and Rembrandt.
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