The eagerly anticipated Musée des Confluences has just opened its doors in France’s second city, Lyon. The museum’s planners had the task of drawing together anthropological and natural history collections totalling some two million assorted pieces, from preserved butterflies and fragments of meteorite to Inuit artefacts and samurai armour.
They chose a particularly symbolic spot for this fusing of different strands of knowledge: at the confluence of the wide Rhône and Saône rivers, at the southern point of the finger of land that forms the centre of Lyon.
Alongside the permanent collection housed inside the striking, angular glass-and-steel building, the temporary exhibitions that have kicked off the museum’s programme include a modern take on the Renaissance idea of a ‘cabinet of curiosities’, showing the natural world in all its weird and wonderful forms.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
The Musée des Confluences is open daily, except Mondays and public holidays (£7, or £5 after 5pm;). BA, easyJet and Flybe fly to Lyon from various UK airports.
The côsy Hotel des Célestins stands amid boutiques near the Place Bellecour – one of the largest public squares in Europe.
Even if you had no time at all to pause, an amble through the 20-acre Israel Museum would still give you a sense of the mother lode of Israel’s history and heritage. The complex itself, opened in 1965, is an outstanding example of modern Israeli architecture, and it houses the world’s most complete collection of Judaica, emphasizing the Ashkenazi and Sephardic cultures.
Interiors of centuries-old synagogues from Germany, Italy, and most recently India, have been dismantled and reconstructed here. The Shrine of the Book is the subterranean home of a number of the fascinating Dead Sea Scrolls from the 1st century B.C.; its white onion-shaped dome was contoured to resemble the lids of the earthenware containers that held the scrolls when they were discovered by a shepherd in 1947.
An archaeology wing displays a huge collection of important objects found throughout Israel. The 20-acre Billy Rose Sculpture Garden is the most exciting of the many outdoor exhibits; landscaped by the renowned Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi, it contains classical and modern sculpture by major and lesser-known Israeli and international artists.
Most tour groups head straight upstairs for the gallery dedicated to the mind-boggling treasures of boy-king Tutankhamen. Others make a beeline for the mummy room, only recently reopened after fifteen years.
Regardless of your viewing strategy, the museum houses such an unparalleled collection of treasures (arranged chronologically from the Old [2700—2200 B.C.], to Middle [2100-1800 B.C.], and New [1600-1200 B.C.] Kingdoms) that, allowing just one minute to examine each of its 136,000 pharaonic artifacts, it would take a visitor nine months to see it all.
Another astounding 40,000 items remain crated in the basement, evidence of the chronic space shortage that has plagued Egypt’s greatest museum since it was founded in 1858. A visit here is overwhelming, to say the least; so are the crowds.
After viewing the 1,700 objects unearthed in 1922 in the small tomb of the relatively insignificant pharaoh Tut and the two rooms of twenty-seven mummified royal pharaohs and their queens, the rest of the museum’s exhibits can seem lackluster. A more relaxed return visit can do justice to these other masterworks.
People-watching is the most exciting pastime in this blissfully untouched, high-altitude colonial city. More than thirty different Indian tribes— descendants of the ancient Mayas, known for their woven textiles and other highly sophisticated crafts—trek into town to fill the daily mercado, especially on Saturday. Here near-extinct languages like Tzotzil or Tzeltal and beautiful headdresses and embroidered costumes decorated with tassels and ribbons distinguish one tribe from another.
No trip to San Cristobal is complete without a visit to Na Bolom, home of the much-respected archaeologist Frans Bloom, which he shared with his wife, ethnologist-journalist-photographer Gertrude Bloom, until her death in 1994.
The 19th-century hacienda functions as a museum, cultural gathering point, and guesthouse. It is the headquarters for continuing research on the area’s constellation of highland villages, where the cultural and religious traditions of the local people thrive.
Communal dinners at the hacienda, in a salon filled with art and artifacts, guarantee an interesting mix of visiting scholars and like-minded travelers. Spending a night or more at the guest house may well be the highlight of your journey to this little-traveled corner of Mexico.
If you wondered where all the precious sculpture and artifacts excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum wound up, they’re here. One of the richest treasure troves of Greco-Roman antiquities in the world fills this large 16th-century cavalry barracks.
An invaluable collection of antiquities amassed by Pope Paul III of the Farnese family during the excavations of Roman ruins are exhibited on the ground floor; Heracles is here, 10 feet tall, with an anatomy that would have made Michelangelo cry.
The section dedicated to mosaics excavated from Pompeii reveals fascinating, intimate vignettes of life in that thriving, sophisticated city before it was extinguished forever by the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79. The museum’s Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Gallery) opened to much fanfare in 1999. Contained in two rooms are more than 200 frescoes, mosaics, and statues whose erotic attributes explain why they were never before made available to the public.
The National Museum holds more masterpieces of ancient Greek art and sculpture than any other museum in the world. Its unrivaled collection of Cycladic, Minoan, Mycenaean, and Classical Greek art is an essential part of any introduction to Greece.
The star of the ground-floor sculpture rooms is the virile bronze of Artemision Poseidon, circa 5th century B.C.—the perfectly balanced body of an athlete about to launch his trident. Other magnets are the room dedicated to stunning ancient and Byzantine gold jewelry, the funerary mask of a bearded king once thought to be Agamemnon but now believed to date to the 15th century B.C.
Save some of your strength for the outstanding Thira collection on the first floor, a range of pottery and artifacts rescued from the island of Santorini (Thira), dating to a Minoan civilization contemporary with that of Knossos on Crete. The Thira collection is known for its well-preserved frescoes, some of which have been returned to Santorini, where a new museum is being completed.
An Ode to Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age
This is the Netherlands’ greatest museum and, for lovers of the 17th-century Old Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606—1669), guardian of the country’s finest works. If you want to cut to the chase through more than 150 rooms full of beauties, head for Rembrandt’s magnificent The Night Watch (1642) on the upper floor (Room 224).
The enormous king-size canvas is the artist’s best-known painting, one of the world’s most famous, and has a grand hall all to itself. It is the pivotal point around which this turreted neo-Gothic museum was designed in 1885 by P. J. H. Cuypers.
It houses the largest and finest collection of Dutch paintings anywhere in the world. Adjoining rooms showcase Rembrandt’s sensitive Jewish Bride (1662) and Self-Portrait as the Apostle Paul (1661); there are twenty- one of his works in all. Other rooms on the top floor are no less impressive, with works by Jan Vermeer, Frans Hals, and Jacob van Ruisdale, among many others.
Dating from a decree in 1808 by Louis Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, the astonishing collection of the 17th-century Dutch golden age has long been the uncontested drawing card of “The Rijks.” But it is strong in other areas as well—it has an impressive collection of delftware, and its extensive Asian art collection (with some 100 Buddhas from all over the East) gets the attention it merits thanks to a 1996 face-lift of the South Wing.
When Calouste Gulbenkian, an unashamedly rich Armenian oil tycoon, died in 1955, he bequeathed one of the world’s greatest private art collections to Portugal, which had been his home since WW II.
Art Nouveau jewelry and objets by Gulbenkian’s friend Rene Lalique are some of the highlights of this remarkable collection of more than 6,000 pieces amassed during fifty years of astute and passionate collecting.
Many of these spectacular works were purchased from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg in the 1920s, when the Soviet Union needed hard currency. The collection spans the period from 2700 B.C Egypt to the early 20th century and represents Gulbenkian’s wide interests and deep pockets.
Star works by Ghirlandaio, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Manet are displayed cheek by jowl with countless exquisite objects that captivated this connoisseur’s eye—including illuminated medieval manuscripts, ancient Greek coins, and Middle Eastern carpets.
A major refurbishment of the main building of the van Gogh Museum and a dramatic new annex designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa unveiled in June 1999 confirmed the Netherlands’—and the world’s— steadfast Vincent worship.
Vincent van Gogh (1853—1890) was the 19th century’s most important Dutch artist, and what an outstanding home his 200 paintings, 500 drawings, and 700 letters now have. Visitors and architects call the new annex, clad in gray stone and titanium steel, both striking and welcoming.
In the light-filled space of the annex’s fusion of Japanese and European sensibilities, all of van Gogh’s paintings in the collection can now be displayed for the first time, from his earliest work, done in 1881 in the Netherlands, to those done just days before his suicide in France at the age of thirty-seven.
“I should like to do portraits which will appear as revelations to people in a hundred years’ time,” the prolific artist wrote to his sister Wil just before his death.
You may agree with some of the Amsterdammers who find the architecture jarring, but after you’ve seen the vibrant colors and dazzling landscapes of this visionary genius, all you’ll remember is the art. You may not have known their names, but you’ll recognize the images: The Potato Eaters, Sunflowers, and Wheatfield with Crows.
Van Gogh’s anguished life is easily detectable, its abrupt end readily foreseeable in some of his more turbulent paintings. Works by dozens of artists who influenced him, or whom van Gogh influenced in turn, are also on display.
Jump on one of the free white bicycles left about for public use, and make your way to the center of the vast De Hoge Veluwe nature and game reserve, Holland’s largest national park, to see the remarkable art collection housed in the Kroller-Muller Museum.
Both park and art collection were left to the Dutch state in 1938 by industrialist Anton Kroller (the 13,000 acres of woodland served as his private hunting grounds), whose wife, Helene, spent her life and fortune amassing 278 works by Vincent van Gogh.
These are the highlights of the museum’s display but by no means all there is to see. Together with the collection in Amsterdam’s newly refurbished van Gogh Museum, this constitutes nearly the entire oeuvre of the 19th-century Dutch artist, including one of the Sunflowers, The Bridge at Arles, and L’Arlesienne.
Kroller-Muller went on to collect work by other major artists, predominantly of the 19th and 20th centuries: Courbet, Seurat, Picasso, and Mondrian, to name a few. Surrounding the museum is one of Europe’s largest outdoor sculpture gardens, 47 acres studded with works by 20th-century sculptors such as Henry Moore, Richard Serra, and Claes Oldenburg.
If there are enough hours in the day, trade your white bike in for your car and drive the few miles to visit nearby Het Loo, the recently restored royal palace and gardens. It was built in the late 17th century by the prince and princess of Orange, who would thereafter go on to take over the throne of England as William and Mary.
A small-scale Versailles, the palace houses a recently organized museum celebrating the history of the House of Orange, but the formal Baroque gardens are the jewel in this royal crown.