The word museum has its origins in the Ancient Greek word of Mouseion, which denotes a place or temple dedicated to the Muses (the patron divinities in Greek mythology of the arts). The meaning of “museums” has changed considerably over time since they started becoming popular in Europe. Formerly a means to display exotic things collected by wealthy men to their fellow wealthy friends, museums are now open to all people; they are for the enjoyment and enlightenment of all.
The role of museums in society has also evolved a great deal. With the advent of the internet, it is no longer a significant source of historical or factual information presented in a chronological fashion. Rather, the best museums now try to provoke a response in the mind of the audience. How did people live with vastly different means and technologies so far back in time? Were they less happier then? How did people suffer during a war? Do modern wars lead to less pain? How did a technological leap change society? Has it benefitted everybody? The visitor can be forced, even for a few moments, to confront her existence juxtaposed with these conundrums.
These momentary provocations can lead us to a lifelong quest to know more and empathize with other people, other cultures and other forms of life. In the following paragraphs, I present the personal viewpoints of 18 of my fellow travel bloggers from all around the world about thought provoking museums they have been to.
Do modern wars lead to less pain? How did a technological leap change society? Has it benefitted everybody? The visitor can be forced, even for a few moments, to confront her existence juxtaposed with these conundrums. #Travel… Click To Tweet
War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Contributed by Holly from Four Around the World.
The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is a must visit for anyone with an interest in war history. Located fairly central in the city, the museum shares the devastating history of the Vietnam war and the first Indochina War. Referred to as the ‘American War’, rather than the Vietnam War throughout the museum, it is a place that will stay with you long after you leave.
The multi-level museum begins with an outdoor display of vehicles and war related artifacts throughout the museum grounds. This includes US armoured vehicles, weapons and the disturbing ‘tiger cages’ that were used to hold prisoners of war. Once inside, the first level displays posters and advertisements from around the world, and photographs of anti war movements that took place in an attempt to end the war. This area does not prepare you for the disturbing and graphic imagery that presents you upstairs, but certainly sets the scene.
The museum takes you through the significant events and history, with shocking photographs and videos captured during the many years of the war. It also shows the after effects, such as the deformities of children born in affected areas. It is a truly emotional journey to go through as you walk from exhibit to exhibit and reminds us of the not so long ago horrors that took place.
Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa
Contributed by Philip at Zen Travellers.
The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa is likely one of the most thought provoking and memorable museums I’ve visited anywhere in the world. The museum chronicles the horrific Apartheid system of institutionalized racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 – 1994.
The museum is thoughtfully put together and the first act is to separate visitors into coloured and whites to enter the museum. This is an eye opener and really drives home the point on inhumanity that this racial segregation system created. From there you walk through exhibits and historical media documenting the creation of the Apartheid system, the rebellion against it and Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, the dismantling of Apartheid, and eventually Mandela’s election and ongoing impacts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The museum is filled with thought provoking and often brutal reminders of South Africa’s history. One could easily spend several hours or even a full day taking in all of the exhibits and films on display. This is not a museum to rush through quickly! The Apartheid Museum is often recommended as a “must do” in South Africa, whether you’re there to explore Cape Town or for a Safari in Kruger National Park. Once you’ve been you can certainly understand why it is so strongly recommended. Honestly, if you don’t leave this museum having felt something you don’t have a heart!
Hiroshima Peace Museum in Hiroshima, Japan
Contributed by James from Travel Collecting.
Hiroshima in Japan is most famous for the nuclear bomb that dropped on it, and Nagasaki, ending WWII. This event was one of the most important events in human history and is profoundly shocking. To learn more about this important moment in history, you can visit the Hiroshima Peace Museum, which sits at one end of the Hiroshima Peace Park. The Peace Park is actually a lovely place. There is an enormous bell that you can toll to broadcast your thoughts of peace, a memorial, an eternal flame, and thousands of paper cranes that have been left to symbolize peace. If you know how to make an origami paper crane, leaving one there is another way to connect to the peaceful message that the park extols. There is also the remaining structure of a domed hall that has been left exactly as it was after it was hit by the epicenter of the bomb. The ruined building, together with a photo of what it looked like beforehand, is a haunting reminder of the destruction that the bomb wrought.
The museum, however, is the main reason to go. It’s fascinating and definitely thought-provoking, but harrowing. You may cry, you will feel distraught, you may even feel sick. But it’s important. This is history and it’s important that we don’t forget or minimalize it. The museum details the lead up to the bomb, the actual dropping of the bomb, and the aftermath. The worst are the photos of the people after the bomb fell and the human stories of real people and how it affected their lives and their health. The fact that there is a large park just outside calling for peace makes a whole lot of sense!
Fotografiska Museum – Truth is Dead Exhibition in Stockholm, Sweden
Contributed by Raw from Raw Mal Roams.
The Fotografiska Museum is located on the Södermalm Island in Stockholm. It showcases over 35 photography exhibitions a year from world famous creators. It’s a very interesting venue. It’s beautifully located on the shore overlooking Djurgarden Island. If you are an aspiring photographer, Fotografiska offers different photography courses. The place is also open until late at night, so come and spend here an inspiring evening and once you’re done, have a drink or two in their fancy bar.
The one exhibition that drew my attention during my visit in particular was “Truth is Dead” by Alison Jackson. The first thing you notice when you enter the room is a large photograph of the famous celebrity Kim Kardashian giving birth to a child and being accompanied by a large camera that is literally between her legs!
Alison Jackson uses celebrities, politicians, royals look-a-likes in her photographs. They are all presented in some sort of intimate moment for example Queen Elizabeth sitting on the toilet or Donald Trump having sex with Miss Mexico. Alison explains that we live in times where celebrities have replaced gods. The public is obsessed with reading about celebrity gossip and following famous people’s lives. And this phenomenon has got to a stage where boundaries between what is truth and what is not are very much blurred. What impact does this have on our lives is up to us to decide!
Museum of Revolution in Havana, Cuba
Contributed by Mayuri from To Some Place New.
The Museum of Revolution highlights the stories and struggles of the Cuban revolutionaries against US embargoes and economic sanctions. The displays at the museum were very clear and kind of vocal about the atrocities, ill doing and impact of the economic sanctions. Stuff that we would never think will be said, in history books.
It is a clear picture of the times of the Cubans under those sanctions and why it stayed at the moment when the embargo was imposed. And everything that you see and read in the museum can be photographed, which we also found it to be weird. As Cuba is still under socialist rule, we never thought photography will be allowed inside the museum depicting political history. But they do allow photography.
It was a great learning experience. The museum doesn’t have any modern multimedia technology, but it does have text, pictures and statues of war heroes. The museum building itself is very beautiful from the outside and is like a mansion. You walk though the entrance and follow signs to go to each room and learn about their history. A must visit when you are in Havana!
Museo de la Memoria y de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Museum) in Santiago, Chile
Contributed by Claudia from My Adventures Across the World.
If you are planning to go to Chile, make sure to include Santiago in your travel plans. The capital city isn’t as beautiful as other places you may visit in South America, but it is lively, the culture is thriving, and it is the best place to get immersed in the local culture and atmosphere and to learn more about the difficult history and past of Chile.
The best museum in town is the Museo de la Memoria y de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Museum). This is a very thought provoking museum, inaugurated on 11 January 2010 with the idea of reminiscing one of the saddest times in Chilean history and paying homage to the victims of Pinochet dictatorship between 1973 and 1990.
The incredibly well organized exhibit of the museum includes memorabilia of torture that was used during Pinochet dictatorship. There are a lot of letters that were sent by prisoners in detention centers to their families; newspaper clippings and photographic and video testimonies from survivors of the regime.
There also is a section that is dedicated to the indigenous peoples of Chile, which was inaugurated in 2011. Make sure to factor in up to 4 hours for this museum: there is a lot to read and take in, lots of videos and the incredibly good organization of the material exhibited makes it such that visitors hardly take notice of the time when they are there.
Slave Museum of Badagry, Nigeria
Contributed by Kesi from Kesi To and Fro.
Three hours outside of Lagos, Nigeria lies the port town of Badagry, which used to be one of the main slave ports in Western Africa. I knew I needed to make a day trip to this town to visit the slave museums. There is little information online about booking a tour, but I took the chance and hired a private driver to bring me to the museum. Once I arrived there was a guide out front, who offered to show me the three museums and visit the Point of No Return.
First stop was the barracks museum, home to Sereki William Abass, a former slave who gained freedom and became a slave merchant for his owner. He facilitated bringing slaves from Badagry to Brazil. The museum showcased the tiny rooms where slaves were imprisoned for months. Two interesting things to point out – Sereki Abass seemed to be celebrated here, with a massive gravestone in the middle of the museum. I was confused about why a man that profited of slavery would be honored. Secondly, Abass’ descendants (he had 144 kids!) live on the site. It was unique to visit a historical place with a dark history and have families housed there.
The next two stops were one-room museums. I learned about the plethora of chains used to imprison slaves including one chain that was pierced through the lips to keep the slaves’ mouths shut. I picked up one of the chains, and it was way heavier than expected. The guide asked if I wanted to put the chain around my neck, but I immediately said no, because it seemed inappropriate.
The last stop was taking a boat and walking down the “Path of No Return”, which is where slaves would march to board the ship to go across the Atlantic. Walking down this path, they would have no idea where they would end up.
National September 11th Museum in New York City, USA
Contributed by Anisa from Two Traveling Texans.
Visiting the National September 11th Museum is a thought-provoking and emotional experience. It is located underground where the base of the Twin Towers once stood and filled with countless artifacts from that day. You can’t help but think about what the victims (and their families) were going through and the huge impact that the events made on our world.
I was heartbroken to see the “The Last Column” which had become an unofficial memorial with messages to their loved ones, friends, and colleagues. It was the last column of the buildings to be removed from Ground Zero and many first responders were thought to be buried nearby. Conversely, I felt a sense of gratitude seeing “The Survivors Staircase”. These Vesey Street stairs remained largely intact after the attack and was the path to safety for many survivors.
Inside the Timeline Exhibit, I learned minute by minute how the events of the day unfolded. Hearing the news clips, recordings of phone calls, and voicemails made it feel so close and so real. I got to know more about the victims and tried to imagine what it would have been like to be in New York City that fateful day. In the Memorial section, I learned more about some of the victims. In the Recording Studio, I recorded my personal thoughts about the Museum.
The September 11th Museum is not a museum to go through quickly. I would recommend allowing five hours for your visit. In addition, allow some time to visit the September 11th Memorial. Walk around the fountains and read the names of the victims of the attacks. It’s powerful as well.
Sabarmati Ashram (Gandhi Ashram) in Ahmedabad, India
Contributed by Derek from Robe Trotting.
In January and February of 2019, I had the pleasure of touring India from north to south. Along the journey, I visited Sabarmati Ashram (Gandhi’s Ashram) located outside of Ahmedabad, India. Open daily from 8:00 to 17:00, the former home of Gandhi is a fascinating museum. Visitors take a walk in time through the life of India’s adored leader. The exhibition displays his personal writing, vivid pictures of his life in the ashram and detailed stories of his work.
The location itself has been declared a national monument by the government of India. Gandhi lived at the ashram with his wife and followers for a total of twelve years. One of the most famous aspects of the location is that Gandhi began his Salt Satyagraha from the ashram. This was a form of peaceful protest as part of the Indian independence movement against British rule that Gandhi led. On 12 March 1930, Gandhi initiated an act of civil disobedience by marching to the sea for salt. The march lasted 24 days and stretched 240 miles with new participants joining along the way. His efforts were in protest of the British colonial government’s monopoly on salt. When Gandhi defied the salt laws at the end of the journey, it sparked a protest by millions of Indians.
In the museum that is now Gandhi’s Ashram, there are brilliant images and retellings of this important march. The museum is a fantastic way to honor the life and work of Gandhi and his movement to free India from colonial rule. His influence has stretched generations to other political and civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. Walking through the museum, you cannot help but feel the presence of Gandhi and appreciate his beautiful legacy.
Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Contributed by Diana from The Elusive Family.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city to visit and holds one of the most profound historic events from World War II, the hiding of Anne Frank. Anne Frank was a young girl who went into hiding with her Jewish family several years after the Second World War began. Her family had lived in the Netherlands since she was a young child, but after the family lost their citizenship status and became stateless, they lost their safety and security. When the Germans began to target Jewish families, her father knew there were few options left. They hid in rooms that were concealed in the building where her father worked, and remained there until the Nazis raided their location less than a year before the war ended, known today as the Anne Frank Museum.
The Anne Frank Museum is a multi-story house that was formerly a business during the war, and is now the preserved location of where Otto Frank worked and where the Frank family hid. It is the third most visited museum in the Netherlands. The Secret Annex where the family hid is an experience. The narrow stairs behind the bookcase lead up to the annex, where several small rooms transport visitors back in time. The walls are covered in the same wallpaper and drawings. One of the rooms has the same kitchen sink and even the wooden floor has been preserved. The museum is toured via a personal audiobook and provides visitors with history and details about the life of Anne Frank and her family.
Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum in Kanchanaburi, Thailand
Contributed by Babs from Travel Gear for Kids.
In between visiting Thailand’s wonderful beaches and stunning temples, take the time for a trip to Kanchanaburi. This town, which is only 2.5 – 3 hours away from Bangkok, is famous for its bridge on the river Kwai, its stunning nature and its part in World War II. Although many museums and a cemetery in Kanchanaburi are reminders of this war past, the most thought provoking and impressive museum to visit is the one that is attached to the Hellfire Pass.
This Pass is the largest rock cutting of the Burma Railway, a 415 km railway built by Japan that connects Thailand with Burma. Despite the calculated 5 years, it was finished in 16 months by British, Australian, Dutch and American prisoners of war along with Asian (forced) laborers. Most work was done with their bare hands as there were hardly any tools. The working conditions were horrible, especially during the so called Speedo-period where they had to work 16-18 hours a day. About 100.000 laborers and 15.000 prisoners came to their deaths, which led to its nickname “Death Railway”.
You can visit the Hellfire Pass, which was one of the most difficult sections of the Railway to construct. The small Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum and the 4 km walking path give you an idea of the horrors the prisoners and laborers had to undergo. It’s not the most fun of places, but it’s a definite must see when you are in the area! If you’re going with young kids: it’s a pretty easy walk through the jungle, but leave your stroller at home and bring the carrier. The Memorial is situated about 80 km Northwest of Kanchanaburi and can be reached by car, scooter, bus (1.5h, Sangkhlaburi-Kanchanaburi line) or on a tour (often combined with the Erawan waterfalls).
Bosnaseum Museum in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Contributed by Sinead from Map Made Memories.
The Bosnaseum museum is a new, small museum tucked into a cobbled corner of Mostar’s pretty Old Town, just a few minutes walk from the famous Stari Most bridge. The museum is still adding to its collections and exhibits. The museum has interesting displays about the history of Mostar including an excellent and very moving short film depicting the city’s more recent and traumatic past. There is an informative section about the varying customs of the Bosnia Herzegovina region including an array of traditional costumes from each ethnic group and the different styles of their traditional home interiors. It made us realize how diverse this relatively small region is.
The most thought-provoking part of the museum was an area displaying large photographs of different streets and locations in Mostar. The photographs were cleverly divided into sections with two different parts. One part showed recently taken photographs of streets, buildings and places we had come to know during our stay. Often there was an additional, much older photo of how the street looked in the past. The second part of the photograph showed exactly the same viewpoint but the second photo was taken during the ten-month long siege of Mostar at the height of the Balkan War in 1993. The devastation in the photos was unbelievable. The powerful, juxtaposed pictures really brought home to us the level of destruction and loss that the city of Mostar and its people suffered, and the incredible extent to which the city has been rebuilt and restored.
Museo Marmolada Grande Guerra (Great War Museum) in Rocca Pietore, Italy
Contributed by Clare from Epic Road Rides.
Visiting the Museum Marmolada Grande Guerre is an unforgettable experience. It’s located at just under 3,000m above sea level within the cable car building on the Marmolada mountain in the commune of Rocca Pietore, Italy, and is the highest museum in Europe. Its location is very fitting because it’s here, on this mountain, that terrible battles took place during the First World War and countless lives were lost. The reason for this is that the peaks and glaciers of the Marmolada were a strategic position, being part of the front between Italy and Austria. It was so important that in 1916, the Austrians built a web of tunnels right inside the glacier: the “City of Ice” contained everything that nearly 200 soldiers needed to survive.
The fact that people lived inside the glacier, shows just how desperate the situation must have been. At this altitude, the air is thin and even normal breathing when you’re just walking around a museum can feel like hard work. As you look out on the snowy vistas, that remain right through the summer, you wonder how people survived up here and what courage and strength it must have taken.
One feature of the museum particularly stays in my mind. In front of a window in the museum, surrounded by sandbags, two telescopes survey the snow-covered mountain and the craggy peaks where the dreadful fighting took place. It doesn’t take much to imagine the telescopes replaced by guns and to imagine what fighting up here must have been like. The Marmolada Museum is a simple, quiet place, but it’s deeply moving. I highly recommend a visit.
Electricity Museum in Lisbon, Portugal
Contributed by Julie from Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal
The Electricity Museum in Lisbon, which is now known as the “Central” part of the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology is an eye-opener. Not only is the red brick building a stunning piece of architecture which contrasts delightfully with the shiny curves of the new MAAT museum building, its contents reveal a side to Lisbon and electricity production that I had never given a moment’s thought to.
This former thermoelectric power station relied on the Tagus River for transporting coal for the furnaces as well as for its cooling system. The enormous, heavy duty Babcock & Wilcox machines have been cleaned up and provided with explanations of the processes involved so that visitors can peer into the workings and get a glimpse into the extreme working conditions that were involved in generating power for Portugal’s capital city until 1951. I dread to think what noise and temperatures the factory workers had to cope with day in, day out.
As well as the boilers and cooling systems, there are a range of interactive displays aimed at educating both children and adults on the history of electricity, its practical applications and methods of sustainable energy production for the modern world and into the future. I will never take electricity for granted again!
COPE Visitor Centre and Museum in Vientiane, Laos
Contributed by Marie from A Life Without Borders.
A trip to Vientiane, Laos would not be complete without visiting the COPE Visitor Centre and Museum to learn about the secret war in Laos and its ongoing aftermath. The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) is a non-profit organization that provides support and rehabilitation to those who have been affected by unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos. Between 1964 and 1973, the US military dropped more than two million tons of explosives on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country in history. More than one third of the ordnance dropped failed to explode, leaving Laos with an ongoing deadly legacy, the effects of which still impact today on the lives of Lao people.
The COPE Visitor Centre and Museum is a thought provoking space with informative displays and multimedia exhibits on the history of the secret war in Laos, the legacy of unexploded ordnance and information on prosthetic limbs, support and disability services provided by COPE. The centre offers several permanent exhibitions on the different types of UXO and their impact along with moving illustrations and captions from UXO survivors. Watch one of the short documentary films screened in an on-site cinema giving insight into the secret war in Laos and the seemingly insurmountable task of UXO removal. Admission to COPE is free, however donations are greatly appreciated and all proceeds go directly towards their projects across Laos.
Foundling Museum in London, United Kingdom
Contributed by Catherine from Cultural Wednesdays.
London’s Foundling Hospital was both its first children’s charity AND first public art gallery. Not two things that you’d naturally put together. Thomas Coram returned to London after staying 11 years in America in 1704 and was horrified in the poverty that he discovered alongside the vast wealth of booming economy. He determined to help the many abandoned babies and set up a home for them.
How to fund the new Foundling Hospital? Here Thomas Coram’s friends stepped in to help. Composer Georg Frederic Handel and artist William Hogarth. Hogarth donated works of art and encouraged other leading artists to do the same. Handel gave concerts of his wildly popular music. The money raised by charging people to see the paintings and listen to the concerts funded the hospital.
Today you can still visit the art collection, it has become the Foundling Museum. Artists still donate works to the collection and so whilst there are many fine examples of 18th century art, there are 21st century works too. Alongside the paintings is a fascinating display telling the story of many of the children who came to live at the hospital and what their lives were like. Mothers who gave their child up would leave a token behind, if circumstances changed and they became able to look after the child they would show the matching token and the family would be reunited. There is a display of these tokens, each one representing a heartbroken mother.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, USA
Contributed by Martha from Quirky Globetrotter.
Coming face to face with those who fought for racial equality was an undefinable experience. Feelings of sorrow, gratefulness, and also a tinge of eeriness were the whirlwind of emotions I felt while visiting Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute. This is definitely a poignant experience and is something you will not forget.
Being both white and born in the north, I was blind to the struggles and horrors that plagued the South. I walked into the Civil Rights Institute believing that this museum would replicate a standard Social Studies lesson in high school – I was definitely wrong. I had no inkling how monumental Birmingham was during the Civil Rights movement and how shocking it would be to witness that up close.
Throughout the museum, there are interactive exhibits that bring to life the ultimate struggle and severe inequality prior to the Civil Rights Movement. As you make your way through the museum, a timeline of events emerges. In history class, a handful of these events were emphasized, the Birmingham museum pays tribute to all these events, whether they are regarded as minor or not. People and their heroic efforts to unite a segregated and divided country finally and justly so get an honorary mention in shaping the Civil Rights movement.
The Civil Rights Museum is located nearby the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was bombed during the Civil Rights Movement killing four young girls and injuring 22 others. Across from the museum and the church is an outdoor park with statues. These statues honor certain members of the Civil Rights Movement and ensure that their sacrifices are made known. All of these landmarks serve as a sobering reminder that we must unite together and celebrate our diversity.
Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk, Poland
Contributed by Karen from Are We There Yet Kids.
The most thought provoking museum I have ever visited is the Museum of the Second World War in Gdansk. The second World War began with Germany’s attack on Poland at Westerplatte in 1939 making it the perfect location for the museum. The whole city of Gdansk is steeped in history from this time.
The museum explains in part the reasons behind this brutal war but is mainly focused on the impact on the local people. It is full of personal items donated by families ranging from ration cards to photographs of family and friends and Nazi propaganda which will give you chills.
Probably the most unsettling part of the museum is the mock-up of a Polish apartment. You enter three different phases of this family home. The first shows the comfortable living quarters pre-war, the second includes more evidence of life becoming challenged with broken windows, uncomfortable furniture and ration books and the final displays the apartment pretty much destroyed by war. A humbling and provocative experience that brought tears to my eyes.
World War II Museum in Kohima, India
Contributed by Jitaditya from Travelling Slacker.
The predominant narrative about the world war revolves around the western nations and the Indian contribution mostly remains unknown and unappreciated. However, the fact is that a lot of Indian soldiers participated and perished in the war, fighting on behalf of the British empire. Towards the fag end of the war, the Japanese forces ran over South East Asia and entered India through Manipur and Nagaland, where they were intercepted and eventually defeated.
- The Broken Chair – A symbol of peace in Geneva, Switzerland!
- Defending human dignity – An exhibition at the Red Cross Museum in Geneva, Switzerland!
- Lynching Memorial in Montgomery – The dark history of America!
- Old People’s Home – Art that touches your soul!
- The tragic road of death in Auschwitz, Poland!
- Pearl Harbor – A testimony of infamy!
- I can’t breathe!
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