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Musée de l'Homme. Photo: JC Domenech

Making history France’s cultural landscape may not have been what it is without the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. It was first established in Paris in 1635 by King Louis XIII as a royal garden for medicinal plants, as well as a place of learning and teaching. The time was ripe for cementing the nation’s intellectual identity: the very same year, the Cardinal de Richelieu would establish the Académie Française, which still codifies the French language. Since then, the Muséum has acted as one of the country’s foremost centres for studies in the natural sciences, currently curating some 68 million specimens within its collection. With 500 researchers and 350 postgraduates, it also constitutes a part of the Sorbonne Universities, and is run around a general purpose: to further our understanding of nature as to better to preserve it. TEXT: PIERRE ANTOINE ZAHND  |  PHOTOS: MUSÉUM NATIONAL D’HISTOIRE NATURELLE


he Muséum holds a unique status among similar institutions abroad: rather than consisting of a single site, it is made up of 13, the most prominent three of which are in Paris. Among these, the original 1635 Jardin des Plantes is France’s main botanical garden as well 36  |  Issue 13  |  March 2020

as the central seat of the Muséum. It was renamed as the Paris Botanical Garden during the French Revolution, and became the ground for the Muséum by decree of the 1793 National Convention. The Muséum’s expansion through the 1850s, including the establishment of the Gallery of Mineralogy

and Geology, marked the first time that a building had been conceived as a museum, rather than converted into one. Each individual gallery now constitutes a museum in its own right, specialising in a given aspect of natural history.

Jardin des Plantes Set at the heart of the fifth arrondissement, the Jardin des Plantes is still the site of the Muséum’s most iconic institutions. Among them, the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy is an imposing repository of about 650 skeletons, articulating the similarities and divergences between species. On the upper levels of the same building, the Gallery of Paleontology contains a collection of fossil vertebrates, invertebrate and plants. As a whole, this double gallery offers a 540million-year journey, guiding visitors chronologically through the story of biological life