Burne-Jones in Brum

Italy may have a problem in publicising so many of its amazing artistic wonders. If one considers that virtually half of Europe’s sites of world heritage are in Italy then it’s a real pity that so many of them are not very well managed or even publicised unlike such countries as England or France who have been put forwards as examples of how to “sell” one’s great cultural heritage for tourists and visitors. It’s a fact, for example, that Paris’ Louvre alone has more visitors per year than all italy’s museums put together.

However, I would also suggest that England has a problem in publicising its provincial attractions and museums. I am increasingly discovering how fantastic this country’s provincial museums can be. Yesterday we stopped for a whole afternoon at Birmingham and just managed to skim the surface of one of England’s greatest provincial museums: the Birmingham city museum and art gallery. Among its treasures are some of the finest pre-raphaelite paintings in the world, a very representative collection of italian and dutch art, great modern art including a delicate Modigliani , and the most amazing anglo saxon hoard of treasures found in recent years, the Staffordshire hoard which was only uncovered in 2009.

That kind gentleman who we met while we were visiting Jordan last November was so right about this city. But Birmingham doesn’t just stop at the art gallery and museum; there is also, of course, the Barber institute which we didn’t have time to see this journey but which we will try to visit when we return from Wales: it also has England’s most magnificent baroque cathedral: Thomas Archer’s St Philip with the added glory of two extraordinary Burne-Jones stained glass windows.

Birmingham is also a city which is reconstructing itself after the bad publicity it received in the wake of  its sixties and seventies brutalist architecture. It is a lively multi-ethnic place with a lot to offer and I’m sure that we will return to it and visit further.

After all, London as the financial centre of Britain would not really have existed without the extraordinary energy which the industrial revolution fostered in such places as Birmingham;  it was Birmingham which was a power house of victorian England and it still has a wonderful selection of industrial buildings. It also has, amazingly, more canals than Venice herself for canals were the original means of distributing manufactured goods during the industrial revolution before the railways took over. All this was explained to us in another part of the museum which illustrated very proficiently the history of this vibrant and very undervalued city which has also one of the liveliest cultural scenes outside London with its orchestras and theatres. We will certainly be back and soon too….