The Oldest Museums Around the World

5 of the world's oldest attractions

By Google Arts & Culture

The Geological lecture room, Oxford (1823) by Hullmandel, Charles Joseph (printer)Science Museum

Museums have a history of both wonder and controversy. But where did it all begin? Scroll on, and use click-and-drag, to see and virtually explore some of the world's oldest buildings dedicated to the collection and exhibition of art and artefacts. 

1. Capitoline Museum

The Capitoline Museum, or Musei Capitolini, is very probably the world’s oldest museum. Located in Rome, just a stone’s throw from the Colosseum, the museum houses a fantastic collection of classical art and archaeology. The history of the  museum dates right back to 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated a number of important ancient bronzes to the people of Rome.

The collection was placed on Capitoline Hill, close to the location of the current museum. In 1734, The museum was officially opened to the public, making it the first place in the world specifically designed as a location for common people to enjoy art.  

Myt. Clas. Laocoon.LIFE Photo Collection

2. The Vatican

Located just a short walk from the Capitoline Museum, The Vatican is the second-oldest museum in the world. The museum can trace its roots back to 1506 when Pope Julius II purchased the iconic sculpture Laocoön and His Sons and placed it on public display.    

As well as the inaugural sculpture (which is still on display in the museum) visitors can enjoy a number of other priceless artworks including The School of Athens, by Raphael, The Last Judgement, by Michelangelo and Caravaggio’s Entombment of Christ. Around 25,000 people visit the museum every day, making it one of the most popular galleries in the world.

The White Tower, Tower of London (2009) by Simon Jarratt PhotographyHistoric Royal Palaces

3. The Royal Armouries, The Tower of London

The Royal Armouries has been admitting visitors to view its extraordinary collection since 1592. In 1660, the attraction opened to the general public, allowing locals to see exhibitions specifically designed to showcase the power and splendor of the English monarchy. 

Today, the museum’s collection focuses on arms and amour, with around 70,000 pieces on display. These artefacts date from antiquity to the present day, giving visitors a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of warfare and weapons engineering. 

4. The Kunstmuseum, Basel

In 1661, the University of Basel and the City of Basel clubbed together to buy the Amerbach Cabinet, a fantastic collection of artworks, many by famous German painter Hans Holbein. In 1671, the collection was made open to the public and, in 1823, it was joined with the previously private works held in the Faesch Museum.

LIFE Photo Collection

The collection in the Kunstmuseum covers an incredible breadth of history, with works dating from the 15th century to the present day. This impressive span gives visitors a unique insight into the development of art and artistic movements and makes for a fascinating day out.

5. The Ashmolean, Oxford

Our next museum can be found in one of the world’s oldest and most renowned places of learning, Oxford, England. The Ashmolean is the University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology. Founded in 1683, its collection stretches from pre-history to the present day.

Free to visit, the Ashmolean is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in the history of art and archaeology. If you can't travel to Oxford in person, the museum has recently made over 200,000 object records available to browse or search in their online collection.

Saint Barbara fleeing from her Father (c. 1620) by Rubens, Sir Peter PaulDulwich Picture Gallery

Learn more about the Ashmolean here.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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