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A History of France’s Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

Updated: Nov 9

What is Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle?


Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle is a group of museums, gardens, galleries, and zoos in France.


Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle

Despite its name, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, often abbreviated to MNHN, is actually a group of museums found throughout France rather than one single building. The main site, however, is situated in the heart of Paris and includes botanical gardens, zoos, and the Grande Galérie de l’Évolution, or ‘Great Gallery of Evolution’, dedicated to the diversity of the living world and the influence of man on the evolution of species. There’s an incredible array of specimens to observe, from the gigantic skeleton of a southern right whale, to coral reefs, taxidermy elephants, buffalo and giant squid.


Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle History


The MNHN was founded during the French Revolution in 1793, although the Jardin des Plantes (the botanical gardens) had in fact been created a century earlier by King Louis XIII for the cultivation of herbs by the royal physician. The reputation of these gardens grew thanks to the French biologist and mathematician Georges-Louis Leclerc, the Comte de Buffon, a leading naturalist of the Enlightenment. He had the role of superintendent and during his years of service greatly enlarged the grounds.


Today, the museum is considered a ‘grand établissement’ of higher education, associated with the Sorbonne University and ranking among the world’s foremost natural history institutes, as well as housing one of the largest and most extensive plant collections in the world, the Paris Herbarium.


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