National Museum of Natural History – Jardin des Plantes, Paris
Founded during the French Revolution, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle – MNHN is the most important museum of natural history in France and one of the largest in the world. The institution currently manages twelve different sites across France. The Jardin des Plantes in Paris is the original home of the museum, its headquarters, and its most popular site.
National Museum of Natural History, Jardin des Plantes, Paris; view of the Grand Gallery from the Esplanade; photo Azahar.
History and architectural complex
The origins of the museum trace back to the first half of the 17th century, when King Louis XIII established a royal garden of medicinal plants for medical and scientific purposes; the garden was then converted into a public museum of natural history in 1793, during the French Revolution. Along with being a museum, the institution has always been also a leading research center, notable scientists who worked for the institution include Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Georges Cuvier, Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, and Henri Becquerel.
Together with gardens, the complex of the Jardin des Plantes comprises a number of historical buildings and structures, flanking a 2000-foot-long monumental parterre, known as the Esplanade.
The Hôtel de Magny built in 1699-1700 after a design by Pierre Bullet and later incorporated into the museum’s premises.
The “Gloriette de Buffon” is a kiosk designed by architect Edmé Verniquet and built in 1786-1788; it is the oldest metallic building in Paris. Verniquet also designed the Amphitheater (or Auditorium) building (1787).
The Rotunda of the Zoo (1802-1812), a pavilion designed by Jacques Molinos.
The Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology is a Neoclassical pavilion built in 1833-1841 after a design by Charles Rohault de Fleury.
The Gallery of Reptiles (1874), and the Gallery of Zoology (1877-1889, now “Grand Gallery of the Evolution”) an imposing Renaissance-revival building by architect Jules André.
The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy (1892-1898) by Ferdinand Dutert.
The Botanical Gallery, a 1935 art déco building designed by François-Benjamin Chaussemiche.
The New Greenhouses and Winter Garden (1935-1937) by architect René Berger, rehabilitated in 2010 after a design by LAN architects.
The east facade of the Grand Gallery of Evolution, built in 1889; photo Mompl.
The neoclassical facade of the Gallery of Geology (1833-1841); photo JR P.
View of the Jardin des Plantes with the Auditorium building (1797) on the left and the Hôtel de Magny (1699-1700) on the right; photo Jean-Pierre Dalbéra.
The Jardins des Plantes today
Today, the MNHN comprises eight galleries, greenhouses, laboratories, a restaurant, a cafe, five food kiosks, two shops, workshops, a botanical garden, a park, and a zoo.
The Gallery of Evolution accommodates a 6,000-square-meter / 64,500-square-foot permanent exhibition focused on the evolution of life and animals on Earth presented by the means of over 7,000 specimens, some of which really monumental.
The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy is a spectacular hall in which about 650 skeletons, as well as fossils and other specimens of animals – including dinosaurs and extinct reptiles, birds, mammals, and fish – are on display.
The Grand Gallery of Evolution, photos Panoramas, and Matthew Kenwrick.
The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy; photo Magali Nouguier
The Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology features a 770,000-piece collection of minerals, rocks, gems, and meteorites; it is especially renowned for its exhibition of giant crystals.
Renovated in 2012, the Botanical Gallery is the world’s largest herbarium, with over eight million specimens.
Ideally connected to the Botanical Garden, the four Greenhouses (Grand Serres in French) accommodate trees and plants from three habitats: tropical areas, deserts, and New Caledonia, while the fourth greenhouse is dedicated to the evolution of plants,
The Botanical Garden, on a surface of 24 hectares / 59 acres, comprises a park and several thematic gardens, including a rose garden, an alpine garden, a vegetable garden, and a labyrinth.
Finally, the Zoo, opened in 1794, is home to about 1,200 animals of 180 different species.
Ruin marble calcite from Tuscany, Gallery of Mineralogy and Geology; photo Yann Caradec.
Exterior view of one the greenhouses; photo Jeanne Menjoulet.
A leopard in the zoo of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris; photo Benoit Perrot.
The program of events and activities of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle includes temporary exhibitions, special events, guided tours, workshops, and educational activities: The museum also includes a space specifically dedicated to children, the Galerie des Enfants.
Jardin des Plants, Paris, site plan; image courtesy of Muséum National de Histoire Naturelle.
Cover image, the Greenhouses of the Jardin des Plantes in winter; photo Pierre-Louis Ferrer.
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