From Tibet to France to Vatican City, here are ten of the most beautiful museums around the world.
Museums and art galleries capture a region’s diversity, art, history and cultural breadth in the truest sense. If you want to learn more about a country, have a look at these national treasures that will not only transport you to the era of artistic glory, but will also show you a glimpse of the future through advanced technology.
From the iconic Louvre Museum in Paris to the more innovative Museum of the Future in Dubai, let us tour some of the most beautiful museums in the world. But before that, let us look at the importance of museums to a city and its people.
Often serving as a dramatic visual focal point for the city in which they are located, these structures are a nexus of cultural patronage and are perfect for contemporary architects to display their new-age designs. Several such visionaries, known for their detail-oriented and striking buildings, have received commissions for making new galleries and heritage buildings in the past several decades.
One such example is Spain’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, through which it has become increasingly evident how museums, or cultural institutions in general, can be utilised to regenerate post-industrial cities and bring new investment and life into the region.
Such spaces, however, only come to life when people visit them and interact with their spectacular exhibits. While architecture plays one of the most important roles in attracting visitors and encouraging interactions, artworks and innovative installations showcased at these museums help people enhance their knowledge in many unique ways.
These museums house centuries-old artefacts, antique objects, ancient textiles, jewellery, sculptures, and furniture, which serve as another medium to further cultural education.
[Hero image credit: The Louvre Museum; featured image credit: Museum of the Future]
The most beautiful museums around the world
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Opened to the public in February 2022, the seven-storied, column-free Museum of the Future in Dubai is one of the most beautiful structures in the world. Stunning Arabic calligraphy is embellished on the stainless steel envelope of the building, serving as punctures and openings to let the rays of light stream in. Acting as a connection between the interior and exterior, the cut-outs on the stainless-steel façade are designed by Emirati artist Mattar bin Lahej.
To carry forward the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the museum serves as a laboratory and a space to develop the latest technologies in big data analysis, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality and human-machine interaction.
Designed by Shaun Killa, the building pays tribute to the pioneering achievements of the scholars and scientists from the region and symbolises a bright future for humanity and evolution. The space also includes innovation laboratories dedicated to churning and testing ideas for a better future with regard to urban design, smart cities, energy and transportation, education, health and other critical challenges. The museum welcomes people of all ages to see, touch and shape a shared future.
A significant element of the museum revolves around the research and development of space travel and other complex subjects like human DNA and genetics. With an array of experiential and educational exhibits, the Museum of the Future includes a trip to outer space, and visual demonstrations of current global issues like forest fires, climate change and how we could tackle them.
Other unique features of the museum include a sculptural spiral staircase and several enchanting bubble lifts that transport the visitors into the ‘unknown’ from the massive atrium. As part of a dramatic architectural gesture, an air bridge magnificently traverses through the structure’s void, serving as a harbinger of a new and advanced era. This location is a manifestation of the point where the past, present and future unite.
Overlooking the banks of the Neva River, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg established and exhibited its first collection of artworks acquired by Empress Catherine the Great in 1764. The Empress sourced her impressive personal collection of paintings and other artworks from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky.
Exhibiting over 3 million artworks in its magnificent halls, embellished with royal shades of gold and green, it is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world.
The museum complex consists of six buildings built in the 18th and 19th centuries, namely the Winter Palace, the Small Hermitage, the Old Hermitage, the New Hermitage, the Hermitage Theatre and the Reserve House. Boasting 60,000 rooms, 10,000 galleries and 230,000 square metres of area, the grand museum is not to be missed.
In 1754, Empress Elizabeth of Russia had a vision to create an opulent Royal residence in place of the then 40-year-old existing smaller palace, which was constructed by Peter the Great. The sumptuous Baroque-style structure of the museum was then commissioned to Italian-born Russian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli by the Empress that year.
The famous artworks showcased in the Hermitage Museum include Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna Litta, Cézanne’s Portrait of a Lady in Blue, Veronese’s Pietà, Caravaggio’s The Lute Player and Goya’s Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate.
Designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao opened in 1997. Overlooking the riverside promenade of Paseo de Abandoibarra, Bilbao is a formerly decrepit town in the Basque country.
Set against the Nervión River, the modern architectural masterpiece is made of shiny titanium and is topped by a floral skylight. The light bouncing off the 0.38 mm titanium tiles makes the surface appear to ripple in the changing light and lends a magnificent iridescence to the overall façade of the structure.
Gehry’s distinctive design not only challenged the age-old perceptions about how a museum should be but also invited opportunities for the region’s economic growth. This dramatic transformation was dubbed the ‘Bilbao Effect’.
The unconventional use of titanium, glass and limestone, coupled with the futuristic curves of the Guggenheim, has attracted millions of visitors for over 25 years. The museum houses over a hundred exhibitions and contemporary gems such as Andy Warhol’s One Hundred and Fifty Multicolored Marilyns, Louise Bourgeois’ Maman, Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Yves Klein’s Fire Fountain and Cy Twombly’s Nine Discourses on Commodus.
A 17th-century dzong fortress in Lhasa, Potala Palace served as the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas from 1649 to 1959, before it was converted into a state museum. Perched atop the Red Mountain in the middle of the Lhasa Valley at a height of 3,700 metres above sea level, the complex became a World Heritage Site in 1994, owing to its historical importance and natural beauty. To access the towering Potala Palace, which was named after Mount Potalaka, the mythical home of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, one has to climb over 12,000 steps.
With 13 stories and over 1,000 rooms showcasing murals, bejewelled stupas, century-old shrines and tombs of former Dalai Lamas, the massive palace complex is surrounded by gigantic walls, gates and turrets built of rammed earth and stone.
In the complex, the seventh-century Winter Palace of the Dalai Lama is emblematic of Tibetan Buddhism and has a central role in the traditional administration of Tibet. The White Palace houses the main ceremonial hall with the throne of the Dalai Lama, along with his private rooms and an audience hall. The palace exhibits 698 murals, 10,000 painted scrolls, numerous sculptures, carpets, canopies, curtains, porcelain, jade and antique objects made of gold and silver, as well as a large collection of sutras and significant historical documents.
The Red Palace, which is situated to the west and higher up the mountain, houses the gilded burial stupas of past Dalai Lamas. The private monastery of the Dalai Lama, the Namgyel Dratshang is located further west up the mountain.
The Vatican Museums showcase artworks from the formidable collection acquired by the Catholic Church and the papacy throughout the centuries. One of the most important cultural and religious meccas in the world, the Vatican Museums house several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and most coveted masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world.
The museums receive a footfall of over seven million tourists per year, owing to their iconic collections of paintings and sculptures and stunning architecture. Comprising 12 museums, five galleries and 1,400 display rooms, the wondrous museums were inaugurated in 1771 in Rome, Italy.
The Vatican Museums contain some of the world’s most prestigious and recognised works, including Raphael’s frescoes and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Other must-see exhibits are Apollo Belvedere, Laocoön and His Sons, Portrait of Doge Nicolo Marcello by Titian, The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio, The Yellow Christ by Paul Gauguin and Adam & Eve In The Garden Of Eden by Wenzel Peter, to name a few.
Opened to the public in 2011, the Museo Soumaya at Plaza Carso, Mexico City, was designed by Mexican architect Fernando Romero in collaboration with legendary architect Frank Gehry and Ove Arup. Situated in the Polanco neighbourhood, the private museum and non-profit cultural institution comprise two structures.
Among the two, the museum building located at Plaza Carso has an asymmetric tubular steel form and is enveloped in over 16,000 shimmering hexagonal panels made of aluminium. The skylights allow ample light to pour into the building.
Some of the artworks worth seeing include the 140 works of Rodin, the masters of Nueva España, and the paintings of artists Diego Rivera, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso.
The Louvre Museum, which is home to some of the most renowned artworks, including the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo’s David, is a historic landmark in Paris. The Louvre was originally built as a fortress in 1190, but was reconstructed in the 16th century to serve as a royal palace. The National Assembly finally opened the Louvre as a museum in August 1793 with a collection of just 537 paintings. A majority of the displayed works were royal and confiscated church property.
The museum used to be a fortified castle during the reign of King Philippe Auguste before it was united with the Tuileries Palace. The Tuileries Palace served as the abode of the kings of France. The joining of these two structures was carried out during Henri IV’s reign, at the end of the 16th century.
Starting as an initiative to preserve precious works of art when King Louis XIV ruled, the Louvre was converted into a museum post the French Revolution. Showcasing more than 500,000 artworks, ranging from Egyptian, Roman and Greek antiques, as well as Western art from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, it is still the largest and most-visited art and antique gallery in the world.
Opened in 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is an art museum located on Saadiyat Island. It was designed by the architect Jean Nouvel, winner of the Pritzker Prize and the man behind many of Paris’s cultural landmarks, including the Philharmonie, the Fondation Cartier and the Arab World Institute.
Surrounded by a body of sparkling turquoise waters, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a modern museum clad in metal stars with a massive silver-coloured dome — a major symbol of Arab architecture. With 23 permanent galleries displaying its own collection of works, along with borrowed artworks from French museums, the Emirati version of the Louvre aims to be multidisciplinary.
Marking the UAE as a powerful contender in the world of art collection, the museum explores the multiple facets of humanity, different cultures and civilisations, dating back centuries, and contributes to the region’s cultural fabric.
The must-visit exhibits include Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, Auguste Rodin’s L’Homme qui marche sur colonne, Claude Monet’s La Gare Saint-Lazare, Ai Weiwei’s Fountain of Light, and Yves Klein’s Anthropométrie.
Inaugurated in 2008, The Museum of Islamic Art is the largest in Doha. Housing a collection of Islamic art from over 14 centuries, the museum is built on one end of the seven-kilometre-long Corniche in the capital of Qatar.
Expertly designed by 1983 Pritzker Prize-winning architect IM Pei, the building is constructed on an island adjacent to an artificial projecting peninsula near the traditional Dhow Harbour. The architect drew inspiration from the curves of the Ibn Tulun Mosque in Cairo.
The museum exhibits a rich collection of 17th-century Iranian fabrics, 15th-century mosaics, 13th-century bronzes and other stunning paintings, glassware, ironwork, ceramics, textiles and manuscripts dating from the Mughal and Safavid periods.
Tourists can enjoy a gourmet meal at the end of the museum tour at the notable IDAM headed by chef Alain Ducasse.
Covering over five millennia of the multilayered Indian heritage and history, the National Museum in Delhi is one of the most important cultural hotspots and also one of the largest museums in India. While the blueprint for establishing the museum was prepared by the Maurice Gwyer Committee in May 1946, the foundation stone of the building was laid by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1955.
Designed by Ganesh Bhikaji Deolalikar, the massive four-storied museum showcases a vast collection of priceless masterworks and fascinating artefacts left behind by ancient kingdoms. The circular structure overlooks a huge courtyard paying homage to the country‘s traditional architecture and climate control techniques.
Representing 5000 years of Indian art and craftsmanship, the antiques housed here include over 200,000 objects, including historic musical instruments, sculptures in terracotta, stone, bronze and wood, manuscripts, jewellery, coins, arms and armour, artworks and other anthropological pieces.
The must-see sculptures and artworks from the National Museum are the Dancing Girl of Harappa, Nataraja in chola bronze, Buddha relics, miniature paintings, ancient Indian jewellery, ganjifa cards, Tanjore paintings, and wooden carved doors to name a few.
This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India.