Opening: National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, July 29 2011
© National Museums Scotland
The main target at the heart of a 15-year masterplan comes to a triumphant end today when the National Museum of Scotland reopens.
Three years in the making, at a cost of £47.4 million and featuring more than 8,000 objects and 16 new galleries, the epicentre aims to immortalise Scotland and the world's great inventors, proudly placing most of the artefacts on display for the first time.
“The intellectual and collecting impact of the Scottish diaspora has been profound,” reckons Sir Angus Grossart, the chair of the group’s board.
“Our collections tell great stories about the world, how Scots saw that world, and the disproportionate impact they had upon it.”
Grossart calls the reopening, managed on time and on budget, a “tremendous achievement” which will “liberate the strengths” of a vast collection. Much of it is Victorian, and many of the star exhibits form a real cabinet of curiosities.
The dusted-off Grand Gallery was inspired by the Crystal Palace in London when it was unveiled in 1866, and a four-metre long Tahitian bowl, a six-foot railway signal tower, the world’s oldest surviving colour television and the Nobel Prize awarded to Sir Alexander Fleming promise to make it an entertaining one.
The taxidermy inside includes a three-metre high skeleton of a prehistoric deer and the jaws of a sperm whale, preparing visitors for the Natural World Galleries, where sloths, lions, elephants and dinosaurs prowl alongside orbital granite, meteorites from Mars and telescope cameras.
World Cultures focuses on indigenous people as well as sculpture, human spirit, music and costumes, and the only gallery in the UK dedicated to the cultures of the South Pacific – called Facing the Sea – criss-crosses the world.
They whip up exotic treats such as an 11.3-metre tribal pole from 1855 and a Prayer Wheel House made at the oldest Tibetan monastery in Europe, near Dumfries.
The Ivy Wu Gallery of East Asian Art is one of five areas to have been “refreshed”. Korea’s ceramic traditions and display on Japan and China lie in wait, and Art and Industry, European Styles, Shaping our World (a retrospective of technology) and Ancient Egypt have also been spruced up.
But The Scottish Galleries remind us that lands and cultures within the highlands borders tell tales worth celebrating, from the geological rupture of the isles to prehistoric hunter-gatherers, various Kingdoms, whisky production and politics.
The Edinburgh Festival may be about to provide one of the highlights of the cultural calendar, but now there’s another compelling reason to visit the Scottish capital this August and beyond.