The 12 Oldest Museums in the World

Most museums these days let visitors view a fraction of their collection. However, this wasn’t always the case. Which 12 museums, both historical and contemporary, are the oldest in the world?

Within the framework of this essay, museums are characterized as essential sites devoted to the procurement and preservation of items significant to the development of human civilization. Because they house important collections, they act as a hub for academic and scientific study.

1. Louvre in Paris: 1793 CE to Present

The Louvre was founded in 1793 as part of the French Revolution to give the public access to the collections that the overthrown kings possessed. Currently the most visited museum in the world, it looks after around 400 thousand pieces. Some of the most famous works of art ever created, like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, are included in this group.

2. Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation: 1773 CE to Present

The Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation was established and is the oldest museum in the Baltic States. Now called the Himsel Museum, it is located in Latvia’s Old Riga. In 1773, the Riga Town Council opened it for public viewing.

A doctor named Nikolaus von Himsel assembled the first natural science and artistic displays that the museum now houses. This has grown to be an assembly of over half a million objects.

3. The British Museum: 1759 CE to Present

Even though the British Museum was founded in 1753 and became accessible to the general public in 1759, entry was only granted to individuals who had successfully completed screening and application processes. This was done out of fear that visitors would mistreat the objects on display.

The museum has more than eight million items in its possession. This is because during the course of the several centuries prior, the British Empire acquired artwork from all around the world. However, there is currently a movement advocating for the repatriation of goods seized during colonization.

The British Museum is home to several ancient Greek treasures, including the Parthenon and the Elgin Marbles. They own a copy of the Rosetta Stone as well. Approximately 100,000 objects from the Middle East, Egypt, and the Classical era are housed in the British Museum.

4. The Ashmolean at Oxford: 1683 CE to Present

The University of Oxford in England is the organization that runs the Ashmolean, one of the oldest museums in the world. The scope of this organization used to be restricted to art and archaeology, but it has since broadened.

The Old Ashmolean is one of the earliest totally open museums created especially to give the public access to important cultural treasures. After being founded in 1677, it opened on May 24, 1683. It is currently part of the History of Science Museum, which is housed in several buildings in addition to the old Ashmolean.

The Ashmolean was built upon Elias Ashmole’s personal collection. This was an assortment of engravings, coins, books, and strange geological objects. Notable plaster cast replicas of objects like the Mesopotamian Kish Tablet have been added to the modern collection.

One remarkable specimen from Elias Ashmole was the preserved body of the last dodo to survive in Europe, however it is no longer complete due to moth damage. Its head and a claw are now all that are remaining. The broader History of Science Museum contains a wide collection of natural history objects, including a collection of scientific instruments dating back hundreds of years.

5. Basel’s Kunstmuseum: From 1661 to the Present

The important Kunstmuseum Basel in Switzerland houses artifacts from the years 1400 to the present. Important paintings by Flemish, Dutch, and German artists are on display within its walls.

The Amberbach Cabinet was purchased in 1661 CE by a joint venture between the City of Basel and the University of Basel. These groups made this decision so that more people may view the objects. It is one of the oldest collections in the world to be shown in public, having been realized in 1671.

6. The Royal Armouries at the Tower of London: 1592 CE to Present

Some people have been allowed to see a collection of antiquities at the Royal Armouries since 1592 CE. It was eventually opened to the public in 1660.

The White Tower, which was built by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century, is home to important pieces from the Royal Armouries collection. A few hundred years later, in July of 1323, John Fleet assumed responsibility for the items that had been added to the arsenal’s inventory. Over the years, the collection expanded to include armor, weaponry, and artillery.

Over three million people visit the Tower of London every day. It has also been recognized as a World Heritage Site.

7. The Vatican: 1506 CE to Present

After purchasing the Laocoön in 1506, Pope Julius II opened the fortifications of Vatican City to the public for viewing. By 1854, the Vatican Museums had been established, and they remain thus to this day.

Significant corridors and chambers, such as the Sistine Chapel, have been added to the Vatican Museums since then. Famous artists like Giotto, Bellini, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Poussin are on display for the public to see. The Vatican possesses so many exceptional items that around seventy thousand important cultural objects are kept in the museum’s rotating collection.

Over five million people visit the Vatican Museums each year. In October 2006, the necropolis excavations were opened to the public in observance of the 500th anniversary of the Vatican Museums’ founding.

8. Capitoline Museum in Rome: 1471 CE to Present

Some people think that the first modern museum in the world is the Musei Capitolini, sometimes called the Capitoline Museum, which is located in Rome. Pope Sixtus provided the Roman people with ancient metal artifacts in 1471, which is where the initial portions originated. He was interested in preserving Rome’s legacy, thus he wanted to gift items that supported that effort.

Over time, the museum acquired more artifacts. These objects include coins, Renaissance paintings, Roman inscriptions, Middle Ages artwork, and precious jewels.

Probably its most famous item is the Capitoline Wolf. This is because the sculpture includes twins that were inserted in the Renaissance period, nursing from a fifth-century BCE Etruscan wolf. Despite Rome owning the museum, this statue is noteworthy since it is based on the story of Ancient Rome’s founding.

A portion of the museum’s holdings were made available to the public in 1734 CE. This was the first art show that the general public could view in Rome.

9. Temple of the Muses in Alexandria: Third Century BCE

Ptolemy Soter founded the Temple of the Muses in the third century BCE. It was located in Alexandria, Egypt, and has a close connection to the Alexandrian Library. However, it’s uncertain if the Temple of the Muses operated as a distinct entity or if they were considered to be one and the same.

The Temple of the Muses housed a collection for modern scholars, even though it did not initiate the tradition of collections for scholarly inquiry. Nevertheless, the precedent this shrine created inspired Renaissance scholars to found the precursors of contemporary museums.

10. Aristotle’s Lyceum: Fourth Century BCE

Aristotle’s Lyceum is rarely known, but there is dubious evidence that the Greek philosopher performed multiple dissections there. Since he was a teacher, it makes sense to think that this collection was seen by scholars and inquisitive minds.

11. Ennigaldi Nanna Museum in Iraq: 530 BCE for About 100 Years

During the collapse of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, a woman known as Princess Ennigaldi established a museum in what is now northern Iraq. She used it to preserve artifacts from Mesopotamia. These were little figurines of animals, vases with stone reliefs, and vases decorated with red limestone, lapis lazuli, and shells.

At this museum, the most astounding find was a clay cylinder with an inscription carved on it. Because it functioned as a label educating viewers about objects connected to an ancient Urdu temple, this cylinder is remarkable. Given that some of the artifacts found there date as far back as 2280 BCE, these latest finds lend credence to the hypothesis that this location served as a museum.

12. Circular Building at Heliopolis in Egypt: Approximately 2000 BCE

A circular edifice that was excavated at Heliopolis, Egypt, between 1903 and 1906 may have held an early museum. Scientists currently theorize this based on the discovery of a fossilized sea urchin from the Eocene Epoch, which spans 56 to 34 million years ago. This fossil was discovered in a quarry close to Sopdu, Egypt, approximately 2000 BCE, according to the label.

There were additional things in the circular building that may have been used as a museum for a sizable collection. Old Kingdom vases and statues from 2690 to 2160 BCE are among these items. It looks like it originally had a sizable collection that was documented, even though there isn’t a single, reliable old document that classifies this area as a museum.