The Magical Museum of Classical Archaeology

“OK, so the only thing that’s really on my list of Things To See In Cambridge is *this*” I wrote as I shared a link with my Cambridge-based-chum as we were arranging what we were going to get up to on my trip up there. The link was to a page about the Peplos Kore; a cast of a Greek Statue that had been painted in the original Greek style.

Painted Peplos Kore
Painted Peplos Kore

It turns out their tastes didn’t run along the lines of the clean, white marble we associate with them. No, the Ancient Greeks liked their statues and Temples (and other things, I’m sure) painted bright and loud, garish even. To be honest, I enjoyed the shock of colour – it breathed some life into the statute.

The Painted Peplos Kore next to an unpainted version
The Painted Peplos Kore next to an unpainted version

To be honest, I found her bright red eyes unsettling.

The Peplos Kore is -as you have probably guessed- from the Museum of Classical Archaeology in the faculty of Classics, which is part of Cambridge University. The museum is a bit unusual. All the things in there aren’t real. They’re all replicas and casts. If you were being unkind you could say it was full of fakes, but if you said that I wouldn’t be able to talk to you anymore.

But a museum full of not-real stuff has got to be a bit rubbish, right?

Wrong. It is bloody brilliant is what it is and it’s my new favourite museum and no-one trash-talks my new favourite museum.

The transportationally –challenged Classicist in me couldn’t get enough of the place; here are all the statues I’ve studied all under one roof (so what if they aren’t the real thing, they’re close enough!). Naturally, I got a bit excitable. How could you not? My friend Imogen and I were the only ones in the museum, so I took the chance to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

In infamous Cambridge Don Mary Beard’s book on the Parthenon, she tells us about an artist who, once upon a long time ago, wanted a more authentic view of the stones and statues so he lay down on the floor to gaze up at them. “They were meant to be viewed from low down” ran his reasoning, “as they’re at eye level here, I must get on the floor.”

You can’t fault his thinking, but  if I recall correctly, the British Museum didn’t take too kindly to someone reclining on the floor. I’ve been tempted to re-enact this on one of my lunch breaks, but it has always been far too crowded in the gallery to try it. This gallery, however, was nice and quiet.

Needless to say, the change in height wasn’t really enough to make that much of a difference, but nevertheless I was able to tick one more thing off my list of Things To Do In A Museum.

The photographer in me loved every second of being in there. Luckily photography was allowed because everywhere you turn there’s a magnificent picture just waiting to be captured. Just look at some of these:

Sleeping Ariadne
Sleeping Ariadne
The Dying Gaul
The Dying Gaul
Statues from the Museum of Classical Archaeology
Statues from the Museum of Classical Archaeology


The museum’s appeal went beyond the “Oh LOOK AT THE AMAZING STUFF!” The casts are quite something; I shared a picture of The Wrestlers which seems to be rather popular. I can’t imagine why…


People's reaction to The Wrestlers
People’s reaction to The Wrestlers


… Sorry, I got all distracted there. What really made this museum stand out was the way it interacted when I shared the picture.

Not many museums take the time to actually reach out and talk to the people talking about them, but then this is a museum whose spare wall space is full of signs with variations of “Do you have a question, this way to find a person who can answer it.” It was so refreshing to see the experts being quite literally pointed out.

Yes, it’s probably because it’s a university museum, so the emphasis would be on sharing knowledge and facilitating learning anyway (oh gods, did I just use the phrase ‘facilitating learning’ in a non-job context?), but there was something about the signs that suggested that it wasn’t just students who were being encouraged to ask questions (even the silly ones).

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