Day 2 of our stay in London, we went to the British Museum. We were given free time all morning and I decided to go to the Greco-Roman galleries again as I had not seen them since 2006. After some initial photographs of objects I didn't remember from my first trip I decided to revisit my old friend King Mausolus of Halicarnassus. Mausolus was a ruler of Caria from 377–353 BCE and conquered a great part of Lycia, Ionia and several Greek islands. When he died, his sister-wife Artemisia II built the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus to house his remains. The monumental structure was so astounding it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. When I first saw it in 2006, I was totally astonished to see its remains as I had thought that, like the Colossus of Rhodes, it had been totally destroyed by a series of earthquakes. But, some of the remnants including a fragmented statue of Mausolus was recovered by archaeologists under the patronage of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe in 1846 and those fragments are now housed in the British Museum. Although fragmentary most of Mausolus' face is intact and I found him to be a very handsome man!
I photographed the items I found most stunning in the Greek and Roman galleries including some beautiful Greek jewelry then took a break and wandered up the street and found a news store that sold international SIM cards for my iPhone. The helpful young man in the store installed the SIM card for me and loaded it up with minutes that I purchased so I could call Joe when I got back to the hotel later. I went back to the museum and found an egg-mayonnaise and dried tomato sandwich and a bag of crisps (potato chips) in the courtside cafe. It was really quite good. Then I rejoined the group to participate in a presentation by the British Museum's curator of cuneiform tablets, most excavated in Ninevah in the remains of the palace of Ashurbanipal,the last strong king of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (934–609 BC).
The curator was a really nice young man who I admired for being so honest about the fact that scholars are really not positive about the translations of many of the tablets. I had always wondered how scholars had deciphered the tablets without a Rosetta stone type reference. As it turns out they actually did have something like that - a fragmentary tablet that had text in two different languages written in cuneiform on one side and ancient Greek on the reverse and he showed it to us! He also passed around some tablets and didn't even require us to use gloves. Apparently, his researchers think handling the baked clay tablets will not damage them after all these thousands of years. He also showed us one of the Amarna letters written in cuneiform that was correspondence from Egyptian King Akhenaten (Tut's father) to rulers in the Levant like the Hittites. It was a little more fragile so we were asked not to touch it, though! The curator said anyone can ask to study the tablets - even just members of the public. I asked him if that policy applied to the Greco-Roman collection and he said yes!
After that presentation we were taken down to the basement for a "Behind the Scenes of the British Museum" tour. I always wondered what marvelous things were stored away in a great museum's basement and now I know - wonderful things!! Since I'm with an Egypt study group the tour focused on the Egyptian collection so we saw lots of sarcophagi, statues and funerary art. We also were taken to the papyrus archive and finally down into the mummy storehouse. I'm glad I didn't have to spend much time there, though, as it was pretty smelly!
We left the British Museum and caught the tube over to St. Paul's cathedral and from there walked across the pedestrian bridge across the Thames to an Italian restaurant next to Shakespeare's Globe Theater for dinner. I had giant tortellini filled with ricotta and mushrooms, some fresh garlic bread made from pizza dough and tiramisu for dessert. The espresso in the tiramisu was a little strong but still good - not as good as our place next to St. Paul's, though, Jane!
After dinner we had tickets for "A Midsummer Night's Dream". I'm afraid it's a bit too nonsensical for my taste - I'm more of a Macbeth fan - but it was humorous in parts. My ticket was for a seat in the top right tower so sometimes I couldn't see the actors very well and I was whipped by cold wind gusts off the river. The temperature actually dropped to almost 32 degrees so needless to say I was absolutely shuddering by the time I got back to the hotel with only my raincoat. The next day is our free day, though, so I knew the Victoria and Albert Museum would be warm enough!