All about the National Museum of Natural History in Paris

The National Museum of Natural History of Paris (MNHN) is a museum made up of 14 sites distributed in the capital and in different regions of France. It includes a set of scientific galleries in the form of museums specializing in life and earth sciences. The National Museum of Natural History in Paris displays magnificent collections from prehistory, geology and mineralogy. More than 7,000 species of stuffed animals are exhibited there, as well as the finest varieties of tropical plants and shrubs. In this article, we are going to look at the origins of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, and explore its most beautiful galleries located in the Jardin des Plantes.

The history of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris

Created in 1793, the national museum of natural history of Paris is initially resulting from the metamorphosis of the royal garden of plants, a place where traditionally one taught botany, but also natural history. As early as 1626, the king’s physician, Guy de la Brosse, persuaded Louis XIII to create a garden of medicinal plants in the capital. It was not until 1640 that the royal garden of medicinal plants opened. Courses on the cultivation and use of plants are given there for future doctors, and these courses are also accessible to the general public. In the 18th century, the activity diversified and we gradually moved from the art of healing with plants to natural history. The French Revolution of 1789 will considerably upset the operation of the garden. Daubenton was appointed director and the latter instructed a commission to draft the rules of the new institution, which would henceforth revolve around a museum, in order to educate the general public. Daubenton thus wishes to build collections and actively participate in the democratization of scientific research. The project abandoned for a few years was finally presented to the National Assembly in 1793 by Joseph Lakanal, a French politician. The same year, a decree establishing the opening of a museum gave the garden an independent legal status. During the years 1793 to 1795, many objects confiscated by the revolutionary government had to be sorted and stored in the capital, and the overhaul of the places of conservation gave rise to the appearance of new museums. The Natural History Museum then becomes the National Museum of Natural History. At the beginning of the 19th century, the study of animal life became more important than that of plants, in particular thanks to the arrival of the naturalist Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Close to the ideas of Lamarck, another French naturalist, Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire created the menagerie, a zoological park in the heart of the current botanical garden . The proliferation of travel during the 19th century considerably increased the collections exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Specimen of a T-rex skull in the paleontology and comparative anatomy gallery

The different places to visit the National Museum of Natural History in Paris

The National Museum of Natural History of Paris (MNHN) revolves around 14 sites distributed in the capital but also in certain regions of France. The sites of the national museum of natural history of Paris in IIe de France are:

  • The Museum of Man: located on the Place du Trocadéro, facing the Eiffel Tower , the Museum of Man extends over 2,500m² and houses prestigious collections on prehistory.
  • The great gallery of evolution : located in the botanical garden , the great gallery of evolution accommodates 7,000 species of stuffed animals from the four corners of the globe.
  • The paleontology and comparative anatomy gallery : located rue Buffon, this gallery houses the finest specimens of extinct animals, such as dinosaurs.
  • The Geology and Mineralogy Gallery : located in the Jardin des Plantes, this gallery houses a collection of rocks, meteorites and giant crystals.
  • The children’s gallery: opened in 2010, the children’s gallery houses collections of stuffed animals and interactive games are offered.
  • The zoological park of Paris: located near the Château de Vincennes, the zoological park of Paris brings together more than 3,000 animals and 234 species.
  • Garden plants.
  • The menagerie, zoo of the botanical garden.
  • The large greenhouses of the botanical garden.

The sites of the National Museum of Natural History of Paris in the provinces are:

  • The marinarium of Concarneau : founded in 1859 by Victor Coste, the marinarium of Concarneau breeds and brings together marine animals.
  • The zoological reserve of Haute-Touche : located in the department of Indre, the zoological reserve of Haute-Touche shelters 1500 animals from 5 continents, on 450 hectares.
  • The Versailles Chèvreloup arboretum : located in Rocquencourt, in the Yvelines department, the Versailles Chèvreloup Arboretum is home to 2,500 species of trees and 8,000 plants in greenhouses.
  • The Val Rahmeh botanical garden in Menton : located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, this exotic botanical garden with an area of 1.5 hectares is home to the most beautiful species of tropical plants and trees.
  • Harmas Jean-Henri Fabre : this open-air laboratory houses more than 500 varieties of shrubs and Mediterranean plants.
  • Abri Pataud : located in the Dordogne, Abri Pataud is a prehistoric site where an excavation site and the techniques of archaeologists rub shoulders.
  • The La Jaysinia alpine garden : located in Haute-Savoie, this alpine botanical garden covers 3.7 hectares and offers a setting made up of 2,500 species of mountain flowers.
  • The paleosite of Sansan : located in the department of Gers (32), the paleosite of Sansan welcomes visitors around a 3 km long educational trail, and allows you to discover 900 species of extinct animals.
Animal skeletons visible in the Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy Gallery

The great gallery of the evolution of the national museum of natural history of Paris

Labeled Museum of France, the large gallery of evolution is located in the south-west part of the botanical garden. Created from the former gallery of zoology, the large gallery of evolution is an exhibition space dedicated to the evolution of species and the diversity of the living world. Extinct or threatened species are presented there in a twilight atmosphere. The large evolution gallery also includes the children’s gallery, a playful and colorful space. The basement of the gallery is dedicated to temporary exhibitions. Spread over several levels, the evolution gallery is organized as follows:

  • Level 1: this level illustrates the diversity of living things that inhabit marine and terrestrial environments.
  • Level 2 : this level illustrates the impact of man on natural environments and the changes that this can cause.
  • Level 3 : this level illustrates the evolution of life and its major mechanisms.

Over the years, the Evolution Gallery has undergone various transformations. Created in 1889 by Jules André, it revolves around a huge hall and 3 balconies lit by a gigantic 1,000m² glass roof. 7,000 species of stuffed animals larger than life make us aware of natural environments and animal life.

The Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris

Located in the Jardin des Plantes, near the Gare d’Austerlitz, the Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy Gallery opened its doors in 1898. It extends over nearly 2,500m² spread over 3 levels:

  • The comparative anatomy gallery occupies the ground floor of the building.
  • The paleontology gallery occupies the other 2 floors: on the 1st, there are fossil vertebrates and on the second, invertebrates and fossil plants.

Among the most remarkable specimens, one finds in the gallery of comparative anatomy the skeleton of the rhinoceros of Louis XV, whose skin is in the large gallery of evolution. There is also the complete skeleton of a thylacine, a Tasmanian wolf, a species considered extinct since 1936.

The paleontology gallery also houses the only skeleton of a woolly mammoth and the cast of the skeleton of a 25-meter-long diplodocus dating from the beginning of the 20th century, the original of which dates from -136 to -140 million years ago. !

The Geology and Mineralogy Gallery of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris

The geology and mineralogy gallery has a collection of approximately 770,000 specimens consisting mainly of rocks, crystals, meteorites and fine and precious stones. Located in the botanical garden, the geology and mineralogy gallery covers an area of 2,000m² in a neoclassical building. Its imposing central nave, 187 meters long, houses the gallery of columns. The Geology and Mineralogy Gallery includes:

  • 334,000 rock samples.
  • 135,000 mineral samples.
  • 1,500 meteorites.
  • 8 kilometers of sedimentary cores (samples extracted from the ground by drilling rigs).
  • 30 giant crystals.
  • A collection of precious stones from the royal collections.
  • Paintings and frescoes illustrating tectonics, geology and mineralogy.
The Geology and Mineralogy Gallery is made up of over 700,000 stones, rocks and crystals

The Museum of Man at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris

Housed in the Palais de Chaillot, the Musée de l’homme was created by Paul Rivet on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition of 1937. The Musée de l’homme hosts the most important French collection from the themes of life, history and civilizations of man. After 6 years of work, the Musée de l’homme reopened its doors in October 2015 and now offers a permanent tour, as well as temporary exhibitions. The Musée de l’homme is structured around 2 scientific departments:

  • The prehistory and men department
  • The Nature and Societies Department

A research library and teaching activities are accessible to the public. The Museum of Man covers an area of 2,500m² and houses collections from anthropology, archeology and prehistory. Skeletons, busts, skulls and even mummies are exhibited there, as well as original fossils of Cro-Magnon man. In total, the Musée de l’homme counts:

  • 700,000 prehistoric pieces,
  • 100,000 ethnobiological pieces,
  • 30,000 anthropological pieces,
  • 6,000 ethnological pieces,
  • 1,000 skeletons,
  • 18,000 skulls, including that of Descartes!
  • 63 mummies.

Price, schedules, ticket reservations, as well as all the information concerning the National Museum of Natural History in Paris are available on the website www.mnhn.fr

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