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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 22:11 GMT
Grand opening for Great Court
A spectacular light show opened the Great Court
A spectacular light show opened the Great Court
The British Museum's magnificent Great Court - Europe's largest covered square - has been opened by the Queen.

She hailed the 100m development, with its sweeping roof designed by Lord Foster, as a landmark of the millennium.

The project turns the heart of the famous central London building into a piazza offering new facilities and better access to the museum's galleries of historical treasures.

The Queen said: "In the life of the nation, the British Museum is a remarkable phenomenon.

"It is an institution which has had a worldwide reputation for nearly 250 years and it is an enduring source of learning, inspiration and pleasure for millions of people who visit every year from this country and from overseas.

The reading room dwarfs the Queen
The reading room dwarfs the Queen
She added: "The Great Court will benefit the millions of people who come to the British Museum every year.

"We can be confident that it will become a landmark associated with the new millennium."

A music and light display marked the opening, with vibrant patterns played out on the wall of the Reading Room, which marks the centre of the space and will be opened to the public for the first time.

Accompanied by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen was shown around a new exhibition called Human Image by its creator, curator of ethnography Jonathan King.

The Greek ambassador to London refused to attend the opening ceremony because of the ongoing dispute over the Elgin marbles. Part of Wednesday's celebrations were held in the room containing the marbles.

Greece says the 5th Century treasures were stolen from the Parthenon in Athens in the 1800s.

But Britain argues they were legitimately rescued by the then British Ambassador, the Earl of Elgin.

Reading Room

The new Great Court includes an education centre, galleries, and visitor services.

The Reading Room was opened to house the library collections in 1857, seven years after the museum's completion.

The British Library's departure in 1998 to its new London home in St Pancras offered the opportunity to recapture the space for the public.

The project was funded by the Millennium Commission, the Heritage Lottery Fund and private donations.

It will open to the public on Thursday, when thousands are expected to explore London's latest renovated landmark.

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04 Dec 00 | Entertainment
British Museum opens to controversy
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