A to Z Abroad: Petrie Museum


London is well-known for world-class museums like the British Museum, National Gallery, and Tate Modern. These museums all house incredible collections of artifacts and artistic expression, but there is another museum with an equally impressive inventory that often gets overlooked.

The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology occupies a small space on Malet Place (near Gower St) and is part of University College London Museums and Collections. If you can find the small door and the bell to ring to gain entrance, be prepared to stare in awe at the artifacts contained in row after row of glass cases.

Petrie Museum – Clay vessels and pots
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Instead of the wide-open spaces of the British Museum, the Petrie feels more like a basement with cramped spaces and crowded shelves. Because many of the artifacts are still utilized for scientific study, the emphasis is not on visual display, but rather meticulous classification. Objects are organized by type (i.e. glasswork, vessels, stone reliefs, jewelry, statues, textiles, tools, etc) and by time period.

Petrie Museum – clay molds used during the Amarna Period
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Despite the relatively small size of the Petrie Museum, it boasts one of the largest collections of Egyptian artifacts in the world, particularly from the Amarna Period. Forgive me as I geek out, but the Amarana Period has been the subject of years of personal study. There are no words to describe my excitement when I walked through the door and saw thousands of artifacts that existed in an era that I actively try to reconstruct in my mind.

Petrie Museum – Gorgeous glass fragments from Amarna
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

During the Amarna Period,  the Heretic King, Ankhenaten ruled over Egypt. Ankhenaten attempted to transform the polytheistic faith of ancient Egypt into a monotheistic faith system. In effect, he wanted to take away all the gods of Egyptian mythology and replace them with one god, the Aten (or Sun god). In addition, he moved the capital of Egypt to a spot in the middle of the desert and built a new city  in honor of the Aten called Akhetaten, (now known as Amarna). Both ventures were horrific failures and lead to economic and social collapse. Ankhenaten died a reviled figure and left a broken kingdom to his son Tutankhamun, (the infamous King Tut).

Petrie Museum – Stone relief carving
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

Political and religious movements aside, the Amarana Period is also a unique era of artistic expression. Prior to the reign of Ankenaten, Egyptian art maintained a very strict tradition of symmetry with figures that had an almost “boxy” appearance. In Amarna, art took on very different aesthetic with distinctive curves and stronger references to the Aten.

The image below, (on display at the museum) shows these characteristics. A headless Aknenaten has very wide, curvy hips and a drooping belly. In the old style, the Pharaoh would never be depicted as anything less than a perfect god, so showing these imperfections is a drastic change!

A reference to the monotheistic movement can also be seen in the sun “rays” tipped with hands carrying the ankh – a simple of life. Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti are graciously accepting the life-giving force of the Aten and giving offerings in return, (Nefertiti is holding a vessel, which is typically viewed as an offering).

Petrie Museum – Ankhenaten and Nefertiti gathering the gift of life from the Aten
Photo by: c.b.w. 2011

While the British Museum has an amazing display of Egyptian artifacts, including the Rosetta Stone, the Petrie Museum is filled with priceless treasures from a revolutionary period of Egyptian history. This history geek is so grateful for the collection that this organization painstakingly maintains.

(How’s that for a quickie history lesson?)

– – –

Part of the A to Z Challenge!


– – –

c.b.w. 2013


Wandering in London, Part 3


I’ve been busy  . . .

June 15, 2011

Today I was feeling all historical again, so I went to Fleet Street where the history of London peeks from every corner.  Fleet Street was once London’s center for journalism, banking, and a number of pubs, but today its a busy street filled with lawyers, bankers, and tourists.  The highlights for me were the memorial of Temple Bar, Number 1 Fleet Street (Dickens used this bank as the model for Tellsons’s in A Tale of Two Cities), Prince Henry’s room (from the 17th century and its still there!), Hoare’s Bank, and Mitre Tavern.  In addition, it was really interesting to see how Londoners hold onto the past even thought the present keeps pushing towards the future.  Old signs and storefronts remain in place even when something new takes over.  For example, there might be a deli or a salon inhabiting a building but the sign for a newspaper from bygone days remains firmly in place.

Off the main road there was just as much to explore.  On one of those sidetreets, Fetter Lane, I got one of my favorite pictures so far:

During my first trip to London, the tour guide (back when I went with tours instead of on my own) took the group to a church that still bore the damage from the German blitz during WWII. My pictures from that trip did not turn out well and I’ve always wanted another chance.  During my next two trips I searched for this church, but never found it.  This time, however, a little bit of wandering and an extra dose of luck brought me back to St. Clement Danes.  Not only do I have some great pictures to add to my lessons on WWII for my students, but I gained even more respect for a city that wears its wounds with pride and reverence.

Before I left for London I read a blog that outlined the five best places to write in London and she had mentioned the Royal Festival Hall.  I was close enough to that very spot, so I headed towards The Strand and then crossed the Thames at Waterloo Bridge. According to the blog, the fourth floor was a good spot and she was right!  Large windows offered a great view of the river and despite the number of people occupying the other tables it was remarkably quiet.  I started a new short story and simply enjoyed the ambience of creativity.  Just to shake things up I went exploring and found another great spot on the 5th floor, the Balcony Terrace.  Not only do you get a great view of London, but you can also hear the goings on down on the embankment.  More detailed posts on the South Bank are forthcoming.  There are a number of reasons why I keep walking along that side of the river, so stay tuned!

June 16, 2011

With rain threatening and me on my last pair of dry shoes, I opted to stay indoors and do another museum day.  The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square seemed like the perfect way to spend the day . . . and it was!  I visited just about every exhibition hall, but I naturally hovered over my favorite artists.  I sat and admired Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin on the Rocks and then learned all about Britain’s most famous painters including J.M.W. Turner.  From there I bumped into Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Peter Paul Rubens.  My heart, however, belongs to the Impressionists, so the bulk of the day was given to Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, and Pissarro.  Each of their works inspired a number of ideas for characters I hope will populate a story or two in the future.  In particular, Pissarro spoke the loudest with his painting The Boulevard Montmarte at Night.

After the museum, I wandered through the side streets around Trafalgar and eventually ended up at huge bookstore, Waterstones.  I don’t know why, but I always manage to find a bookstore wherever I go.  And no matter how much I try to resist, I always have to go inside!  This is probably the third or fourth Waterstones I’ve been through already, but in this particular store I noticed their catch phrase.  As a burgeoning writer, I found it to be a fantastic source of inspiration . . .  “Feel Every Word.”

Click for much more . . .

Continue reading