The Oriental Institute Museum and the Robie House are worlds apart in some ways—one a monument to ancient cultures, the other an icon of modern architectural design. But physically, they’re separated by just a brief walk on the University of Chicago’s campus, which means you can take in two of the city's most impressive cultural resources in a single afternoon—and one of them, the Institute, delivers the city’s best cultural value. (It's technically free. The suggested donation is $10.)
The Oriental Institute has several permanent galleries that showcase objects from archaeological digs in Egypt, Nubia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, and the ancient site of Megiddo. You shouldn't—and literally cannot—miss the Human-Headed Winged Bull, which, in the 700s BC, was one of a pair of massive sculptures that guarded the entrance to the throne room an Assyrian king, Sargon II. It is a curious and forbidding mix, combining the head of a human, the body and ears of a bull, and the wings of a bird.
Another must-see of the collection: The clay prism of King Sennacherib, which records eight military campaigns against unconquered lands, including one in which, as the Bible tells it, 185,000 of Sennacherib’s troops were slaughtered by “the angel of the Lord.” The Institute juxtaposes such sobering reminders of the futility of human endeavors with the fact that, 2,000-plus years later, we still find meaning in lingering over the decaying fragments of humanity’s ancient past.
The Oriental Institute is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Monday, when it is closed, and Wednesday, when its hours are extended to 8 p.m.
The Robie House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built between 1908 and 1910, is a classic example of how Wright broke the traditional, 19th-century molds, creating a house whose interior is defined by natural lighting and an expansive, airy living room—and whose exterior is defined by overhanging eaves and dramatic, cantilevered roofs. Wright himself described the home as an inspiration for architects worldwide.