Founded in the 1870s, the Philadelphia Museum of Art that most visitors are familiar with today was actually constructed in the early 20th century. The original gallery at Memorial Hall was part of the Centennial Exposition of 1876 (the first official World’s Fair) and lies about two miles west from its current location across the Schuylkill River. When it was first built, the intent was to highlight the technical and industrial arts of Pennsylvania with a specific emphasis on educating future generations via their school (thus the original name Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art). It quickly came to garner additional attention as a center of the fine arts as collections and donations to the museum improved.
The current building housing the Philadelphia Museum of Art is often referred to by locals as the Parthenon of the Parkway due to its Greek Revival style architecture and proximity to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Perhaps due to its striking façade, the museum has also served as the setting and back drop for a number of films. It is most notable and recognizable for its appearance in the 1976 movie “Rocky” when Sylvester Stallone trained by running up its flight of 68 steps. You are guaranteed to see at least a few enamored guests reenacting this scene whenever you visit. After your yearly exercise, you should definitely take the time to absorb the view from the top of the steps to the imposing downtown skyline. You may also notice that the museum’s exterior was used as a backdrop for the movies “Mannequin” and “Philadelphia”.
Now that you have taken the grand tour of the outside of the museum, it is time to see what treats the Philadelphia Museum of Art holds inside its doors. Boasting to be one of the largest museums in the United States, the collections are comprised of over 225,000 items spanning over 2000 years. Some of the more impressive exhibits include entries from the Dada movement, Baroque tapestries, and several pieces of ancient architecture representing varied styles and periods from 16th century Indian temples to archways from medieval French abbeys. And not only has the museum’s exterior been a centerpiece in film; its interior galleries were used to take the place of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Brian De Palma’s New York based “Dressed to Kill”.
Seeing well over a million visitors a year, the Philadelphia Museum of Art certainly has its fair share of admirers. With over 200 galleries in the main building alone, there is an abundance to see and do here. If you are in town for a couple of days, it’s highly recommended you stop by the sister sites such as the Rodin Museum if only for its impressive gardens. Typically open from 10am to 5 pm except for Mondays (they only open for special occasions then) the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a glorious way to spend an afternoon and experience not only the history of the second state of the union but also of six continents and the shared culture of the world.