The Natural History Museum of Paris’ Palaeontology and Comparative Anatomy gallery is, without a doubt, one of my favourite museums in the city. Featuring a collection of thousands of skeletons, fossils and pickled goats and cats, this is one of the most unusual museums Paris has to offer. Perfect for families and children, the Palaeontology and Anatomy gallery is set over two floors and contains some fascinating specimens, from a vast array of mammals and sea-creatures on the first floor, to a woolly mammoth, a dodo and various dinosaurs on the second! You can easily spend as little as a half-hour or half a day here, depending on your interests (I spent almost 3 hours just on the dinosaur floor!!), and despite the queues to enter and the heavy flow of tourists, the building has a very calm atmosphere.
This is just one gallery of many within the Natural History Museum of Paris, or MNHN, which was founded officially in 1793 during the French Revolution, although the collection was started long before that in the 17th century. The others include a menagerie and zoo, the Musée de l’Homme, and the Jardin des Plantes greenhouses, and yet I find the Palaeontology department the most compelling of them all. I mean who doesn’t love dinosaurs?! Located in the grounds of the royal botanical gardens of Paris on the Left Bank, the gallery is grandly ornate and well lit with natural light, and has a bright and airy feel. It’s proximity to the public gardens makes it a perfect destination during sunny weather, where relaxation and education can easily be merged. Still, the rainfall on the glass roof of the Palaeontology gallery during wet weather can be described as simply decadent, and almost brings the exhibits to life, allowing one to get lost in imagination and fully absorbed in the remains of bones, eggs and fossils on display.
The gallery was created by professor of Palaeontology Albert Gaudry and professor of Comparative Anatomy Georges Pouchet with the intent to showcase historic and scientifically important creatures, and was inaugurated in 1898 for the Paris World Fair of 1900. The exhibits are comprised of specimens retrieved by traveller-naturalists in 18th and 19th century expeditions, and from the zoo on the same garden complex. A modern edge has been added over recent years with the addition of interactive screens and information booklets that offer extra information about the items on display; these are strategically placed and do not distract from the striking grandeur of the collections, which on the ground floor appear to be almost a mass herd on the move!
Some of my favourite creatures amongst the collection include the sea creatures towards the back of the ground floor hall; not only does it include smaller specimens such as trigger fish, ray bones and a pickled prehistoric coelacanth, but it has full scale whales and dolphins, including a bow whale with its baleen intact (hairs of keratin in the mouth that filter food), the jaws of sperm whales, and even a complete narwhal! Almost everything on the second floor was a favourite of mine, and includes raptors, a dunkleosteous skeleton (the first fish with an armoured jaw) and other sea dinosaurs, the giant woolly mammoth, and pterodactyl eggs (I waited patiently for my own Adele Blanc-Sec moment)! It is breath-taking when viewed from the ground or from one of the galleries’ many elevated areas, where you can look down upon the exhibits and take in their full splendour. Let your imagination run wild and find yourself transported to a faraway world!
Despite NOT being accessible via the Paris Museum Pass, it is cheap as chips to enter at 7€ for a plain tariff, with family and professional discounts and concessions. The museum and the Jardin des Plantes grounds are a mere few minutes walk away from the gare d’Austerlitz, so is very easy to access.
*Images and words belong to site convenor and cannot be reused without prior permission!*