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Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum (37)

The Victoria and Albert Museum forms an essential part of an area of South Kensington populated by museums and cultural institutions such as the Royal Albert Hall, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. This part of the city has sometimes been called Albertopolis, in reference to the role of the promoter of knowledge that Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, took on. 

To start with, it was a place used to house distinct objects acquired for the International Exhibition of 1851, called the Museum of the Manufactures. In 1857 it moved to its current site and began its life as a museum but was not given its current name until 1899. 

The spectacular building, which took more than 50 years to erect, experienced different transformations, a tender even being put out to redesign it, above all to give it a big façade and main entrance. Eventually, in 1891 the architect Sir Aston Webb was named the winner. The façade features sculptures of 10 painters, 10 craftsmen, 6 sculptors and 6 architects, all of them English.

Today the Victoria and Albert is one of the most important design and decorative arts museums in the world. This labyrinth of galleries, which covers an area measuring 50,000 square metres, brings together an impressive collection of more than 5 million pieces.

To visit this museum, you need to have a good supply of both stamina and patience, since passing through its 145 rooms means walking more than 10 kilometres. You will appreciate a unique collection, however, for its reach and diversity. Its six floors house more than 3,000 years of objects from the most diverse and sophisticated cultures in the world. It covers vastly different disciplines such as painting, jewellery, photography, sculpture, fashion design, ceramic and glassware. 

The journey from one room to another may involve going from seeing extraordinary models to 18th-century courtesans’ dresses, or of the most important designers of the 21st century. Or perhaps you will be observing Tipoo’s Tiger, one of the most outstanding pieces of the impressive collection of Indian art in the museum, and five minutes later you will be before Ware’s Bed, an elaborate bed made in oak carved by English craftsmen around 1590. You will just love the bronze Islamic handicrafts, or see some of the 300,000 photographs from the national collection that the museum houses. 

More variety would be impossible, and in which other museum could you see a reproduction of Michelangelo’s David and a few moments later, the boots designed by Pierre Cardin in 1967 which were worn by The Beatles?

Also essential is a visit to the impressive British Galleries from 1500 to 1900, where there are notable examples that narrate the history of 400 years of British art and design. 

As part of a massive reform project, a series of new galleries has been opened, among them one dedicated to Architecture, one to Painting, one to Sculpture and another to the Islamic world. 

General or specialised guided visits can be taken. Ask at the entrance. 

As well as the permanent collections, the museum has an interesting programme of demonstrations, activities and events, as well as very important education work with courses, studies, conferences, etc.

Whether you plan the rooms you want to see, which is a very good idea, or you just wander and see where the fancy takes you, the massive artistic display of the Victoria and Albert Museum is a hard-to-equal experience. 

And you can always rest while you have something in its magnificent café, in the knowledge that it was the first restaurant ever placed inside a museum, and was conceived as an exhibition of design, handicrafts and modern manufacture. 

The museum also has all the facilities for disabled people and for those travelling with children.

Do not forget to have a look around the shop too, where you will find some really interesting items.

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