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Swansea Museum, Wales

By Elizabeth Bruton

Main Entrance, Swansea Museum
Main Entrance, Swansea Museum

Swansea Museum is located in the maritime area near the centre of Swansea and adjacent to the docklands that for so long provided the lifeblood of the city. A couple of minutes walk away is the National Waterfront Museum, re-housed and re-opened in 2005, which tells the story of industry and innovation in Wales over the last 300 years. This leaves Swansea Museum with the challenging task of telling the history of the city itself and of its inhabitants. In addition to the building itself, the museum also includes three other locations. Two of these, a ‘floating display’ of boats and a tramshed on Dylan Thomas Square, are both located in nearby Swansea Marina. The three boats which form the ‘floating display’ – the lightship ‘Helwick’, a tug boat called ‘Canning’ and ‘Olga’, and a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter built in 1909 – are open to the public during the summer months. The Tramshed displays memorabilia from the former street trams of Swansea and the Mumbles tram. The route of the Mumbles tram now forms a shared-use walkway and cycle route that follows the curve of bay from Swansea city centre to the old Victorian pier at the nearby seaside town of Mumbles. The fourth museum location, the Collections Centre, is located a few miles outside of the city centre and next to Liberty Stadium, home to Swansea City Football Club. The centre is open to visitors every Wednesday, 10am to 4pm, and provides opportunities to see the reserve and maritime & industrial collections.

Columns of the neo-classical building housing the main collections of Swansea Museum
Columns of the neo-classical building housing the main collections of Swansea Museum

The museum and its main collection are housed in a wonderful neo-classical Victorian building. In 1835 a philosophical and literary society was established in Swansea and in 1841 the Royal Institution South Wales (as it was now known) built the first purpose-built museum building in Wales, built in the neo-classical style. This impressive building is now home to the Swansea Museum, making it Wales’s oldest museum. The building and the city hosted the British Association for the Advancement of Science annual meetings in 1848 and 1880. Well-known ‘men of science’ of the day such as Michael Faraday (1791-1867), Swansea-born William Robert Grove (1811-1896), and Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) were all strong supporters of the Royal Institution South Wales and all three men lectured here on several occasions. The lecture chamber now forms part of the museum with much of the original features still intact.

History of the Royal Institution South West, Cabinet of Curiosities room, Swansea Museum
History of the Royal Institution South West, Cabinet of Curiosities room, Swansea Museum

Within the walls of this magnificent building is the main museum collection, a treasure trove of objects telling the fascinating history of the city. The downstairs section of the museum has the China Gallery, the original debating chamber, temporary exhibitions, and the museum shop. The upper floor of the museum houses displays on archaeology, Egyptology, and a cabinet of curiosities. The fruits of the commercial and industrial activities of the city are on display in the China gallery, which includes pottery as far back as early Cambrian wares (1768-90). The focus of this gallery is pottery made in Swansea, including some beautiful porcelain pottery. During my visit in January 2012 there were two temporary exhibitions, a small travelling exhibition on Amundsen and a local one on Copperopolis telling the story of Swansea, Copper and the world – both definitely of interest to historians of science and industry. The latter exhibition was housed in the former debating chamber and library.

Up the winding stairs – another original feature of the building – are displays on archaeology, Egyptology, and a cabinet of curiosities. The archaeology room covers the history of Swansea from the Pleistocene (Ice Age) to medieval period, and is modest in scope. The Egyptology display is a small room with the Mummy of Hor which has been on display almost continuously since 1888. The display is very much focussed on Egyptian history and folklore and the details of how and why this object came to Swansea are only be revealed in a small photograph in the Cabinet of Curiosities room. Further information on the object can be found on the BBC History of World objects website.

The entrance to the cabinet of curiosities room, Swansea Museum
The entrance to the cabinet of curiosities room, Swansea Museum

The Cabinet of Curiosities room is where, at least for this visitor, the museum comes to life. While lacking the content and interpretation of most modern museum displays, this room uses the breadth of the collection to explore the modern history of the city in its wider context. The room spans a wealth of displays and objects including (but not limited to): the model of a traditional Welsh kitchen; a brief history of the city including the World War Two bombing; a natural history of the Swansea area including the surrounding Gower peninsula (well worth a visit, particularly by bicycle); a history of the Royal Institution of South Wales; a Victorian lady’s room; a display on phrenology (sure to be of interest to historians of medicine); the chronology, historic urban and architectural photographs and drawings of the town; and other miscellanea. Towards the end of the Cabinet of Curiosity room is a small photograph of Field Marshal Lord Francis Wallace Grenfell (1841-1925) revealing how this Swansea-born gentleman choose a career in the Army over the family copper business and was posted to Egypt in the 1880s. Along with many educated Victorians of this age, Grenfell was greatly interested in archaeology and Egyptian history. He obtained the Mummy of Hor with the help of British Museum archaeologist Wallis Budge before gifting it to the Royal Institution of South Wales in 1888 along with the mummy’s coffin and other small funeral items. This visitor was left to wonder why this is not more prominently displayed alongside the Mummy itself?

The Phrenology display, Cabinet of Curiosities room, Swansea Museum
The Phrenology display, Cabinet of Curiosities room, Swansea Museum

This museum, its collection, and the wonderful historic building within which they are housed are well worth a visit and a day trip to Swansea could be easily filled with a trip to the Swansea Museum, the nearby Waterfront Museum, and a wander around the nearby dockland area. The museum is free to enter and has plenty to amuse, entertain, and educate those of all ages and interests, and with much to impart to interested historians of science.

Website: http://www.swansea.gov.uk/swanseamuseum

Cabinet of Curiosities room, Swansea Museum
Cabinet of Curiosities room, Swansea Museum

Ciudad Universitaria (University City), Mexico City

By Juan Manuel Rodriguez Caso

Biblioteca Central (Central Library)

Ciudad Universitaria (University City) is the main campus of UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), erected over a volcanic ground, is located at the south of the country’s capital, a coarse place called El Pedregal (the Rockyland), covered by the lava resulted from the eruptions of several volcanoes more than six thousand years ago (the most important, the Xitle volcano around 100 AD), and since then it invited everyone the contemplation of its exotic landscape.

Constructed between the years of 1950 and 1954, University City exemplifies the cultural and political life of Mexico since its construction. The buildings of the Campus clearly show the interpretation of the Modern International Architecture postulates, rationalist, technical, and objective, but at the same time, also of the traditional Mexican architecture. The University City is a true fusion, the result of the union without precedents of the Modern Mexican architects, more than sixty architects interacted to give origin to one of the most emblematic complexes of the Modern Mexico.

The stone used as raw material in the construction of the complex evokes directly the tectonics strength of the volcanic mantle, the rooting with the site, and the millenarian past, reflected in the Olympic Stadium and in the Handball Courts: the latter acquire their shape from the pre-Hispanic traditional Ball Game. Both pieces achieve a forceful abstraction and geometric rigor. The modernity and technological innovation the country was experimenting at that time are represented with the use of steel, glass and shown concrete, and synthesize the influence form international models of the 20th century.

University City it is part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List since July 2nd, 2007, due a significant exceptionally values:


It is the physic concretion of many University members longings to unite the University facilities that were spread around the Historical Center of Mexico City since its origin during the Hispanic time, as it represents the Mexico National Autonomous University presence in the country for more than 450 years.

Main Administration building


The open space, the setting and the spatial relation appear as a tribute to the pre-Hispanic Mexico, and also, as a promise towards its future.

The Campus has architectural exceptionality value due to the syncretism presented by its buildings, where the Mexican architectural tradition its harmonically combined with the most demanding postulates of the Modern Architecture, generating through reflection and integration an identity of its own.


University City is in itself an evocation of the modern man, of the site, and its history. Its creation is the same as for the Modern Mexican, it reflects the continuity of the post-Revolutionary Process; the Nationalist Modernity melts with the ideals of the Modern World and the Universal Man.

University City stands as a universal symbol for the transmission of culture through time. Its particular case is about an institution created during the cultural cross-breeding between Europe and America initiated in 16th century and formalized since 1554, year of the Royal and Pontifical University founding, predecessor of the today Mexico National Autonomous University.

Main Administration building (2)


The aesthetic and social relevance are revealed through the plastic integration on the Campus architecture. The merge of architecture and plastic placed the complex into an ancestral and modern space of time, represented on its murals; Muralism is an integral element of architecture. The same way that in the antique Mexican times the codices were used, murals in modern Mexico represent graphically a cultural and didactic message; Architecture and art in the Campus are a metaphor for life and knowledge.


University City is directly linked to the work of outstanding individuals internationally recognized by their contributions into several knowledge fields; scientists and humanists have received the highest level prizes, as the Nobel; artists that have left an invaluable artistic heritage for mankind, and promoted the Mexican culture by using original and expressive languages from the 20th century, such as Muralism.


More than fifty years after its creation, the Campus continues as an example of the interdisciplinary collaboration that prevailed among the consulters and specialists in different knowledge fields, with the architects in charge of the translation of the programs into buildings where the majority of Mexican professionals’ generations had studied since.


The outstanding environmental value of the Campus refers to the University validity as an example of sustainability and ecological development before the city, by maintaining the vastest Pedregal Ecological Reserve within all Mexico City.

University City maintains and preserves within its limits a unique Ecological Reserve that has already been declared under protection.

The central space of the Campus central allows to the meeting and coexistence of the University community and the original natural conditions of the site.

For all these characteristics, University City became an obligate place to visit, for being the main venue of the science and culture in Mexico since the 1950s.