History of Museums

Old Louvre Museum

Museum is a place and an institution that collects, takes care and interprets object, artifacts and other material evidence of human history, as well as of nature and makes them available for viewing by general public. Word “museum” comes from Ancient Greek “mouseion” which meant “seat of Muses” and it was used for philosophical institution or for a place for contemplation. In Rome, Latin word “museum” was used for places for philosophical discussions. First time a word “museum” was used to describe something similar to modern museum was in 15th century for collection of Lorenzo de Medici in Florence. Until 17th century, it was a name for collections of curiosities such were Ole Worm's collection in Copenhagen and John Tradescant's collection in Lambeth. When John Tradescant's collection became property of Elias Ashmole in 1677, it was moved to University of Oxford to a building especially built for it. Building was opened for public in 1683 and was named the Ashmolean Museum and is considered to be the first museum open to public that held the name “museum”. That marks the moment when “museum” starts being an institution and not just collection of items and it remained like that during 19th and 20th century.

In time some other forms of museums began to appear as they begin to accommodate different types of artifacts. There are now open-air museums that have preserved buildings as objects, ecomuseums and even virtual museums that exist only in electronic form on the Internet. There are also archeology museums that hold archaeological artifacts; art museums (or art galleries) that display different forms of art; encyclopedic museums that give many different information about local and global history; history museums; maritime, military and war museums; pop-up museums that are temporary and many more.

History of Museums

Museums deal with nature and human influence on nature and how humans change through history. But museums also change through history. How? You can read about museum history here.

Facts about Museums

As much museums started from the same point, collections of curiosities, they changed in time, focused on different themes, cultures, and had different goals. Read more about interesting museum facts.

Famous Museums

There are many museums in the world that differ in sizes, in specializations, in collections. Many of them are very popular for tourists. Find out more about famous museums.

Natural History Museum 1

Earliest museums were private collections that were not of open nature and were only accessible to narrow circle of people. They displayed rare and curious natural objects and artifacts. Some of them worked as “wonder rooms” or “cabinets of curiosities”. Oldest known museum was Ennigaldi-Nanna's museum, collected by Princess Ennigaldi and dated from 530 BC. It was located in the state of Ur and it held Mesopotamian antiquities. It was apparently visited enough that it had to have clay labels in three languages. Museums opened for public started opening in the Renaissance but many important museums started opening in 18th century. Oldest public collection of art is Capitoline Museum and it started in 1471 with donation of sculptures by Pope Sixtus IV to people of Rome. Oldest museum in United Kingdom, opened in 1660, is Royal Armories in Tower of London. City of Basel bought private collection Amerbach Cabinet in 1661 and opened it to public in 1671. From it developed Kunstmuseum Basel. St. Petersburg’s first museum was opened in 1717 and named Kunstkamera. Private collection of Sir Hans Sloane was a basis for British Museum in London which was founded in 1753 and opened for public in 1759. Catherine the Great founded Hermitage Museum in 1764 and it is opened for public viewing since 1852.