Friday, November 30, 2012

From Dinosaurs to Dodos - Vienna's Natural History Museum

Having already gone 2 for 2 in the Natural History Museum column, with fantastic and interesting visits to the Natural History Museum in London and La Specola in Florence, we decided to try and continue our streak in Vienna. The Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (or Museum of Natural History of Vienna) was originally created to house the extensive collection of Emperor Franz Joseph I and now contains more than 30 million objects (yes, million with an 'm'), some of which date back over half a billion years.

The facade of the Natural History Museum (via)
Immediately upon entering the museum, the wealth of the Habsburg empire is evident. Located in Maria-Theresian Platz across from its sister building (the Museum of Fine Arts), the building is more reminiscent of a palace than a museum, and features amazing frescoes, sculptural details, paintings, and mosaics.

Frescoes and paintings adorn the interior
Still in awe of the building, we made our way to the first floor exhibits which provide an amazing display on the history of the planet and the human race. They begin with an extensive rock, mineral, and gemstone collection, including a 115kg piece of quartz, and moves onto the oldest meteorite collections in the world, ranging in size from pea-sized to large boulders from around the world. 

Cases and cases of rare and interesting rocks and minerals

Fossilized dinosaur footsteps

Fossils galore greet visitors as they continue through the halls of the ground floor. Trilobites, sea scorpions, Nautilus shells, and countless other interesting fossilized specimens are made all the more compelling by the addition of models of what they would have looked like when they were walking (or swimming) the planet millions of years ago. The next few rooms, however, with numerous dinosaur skeletons, including an Allosaurus, Diplodocus, and Pterodactyl, draw the largest crowds and prove that dinosaurs still have the same awe-inspiring effect on adults as they do on children.

A massive Allosaurus immediately greets visitors in the dinosaur hall

Travis beside an Ultrasaurus leg

A feathered Deinonychus model

Finally we reached the real star of the museum - the 24,000 BC Venus of Willendorf. Discovered in 1908, the small statue of an interestingly shaped woman is one of the most important and oldest known statues in the world. In addition to the Venus, Mammoth hides used as clothing, 100,000-year old stone tools, and other objects of prehistoric human life are fascinating to look at.

The Venus of Willendorf (via)

Sculpture outside the museum

Their dodo

Although the first floor was the most impressive, especially the vast fossil and meteorite collections, we also took some time to wander through the second floor which covers the diversity of life on our planet from protozoans to elephants. A seemingly unending collection of taxidermy specimens and skeletons, including a number of critically endangered or extinct species (even a dodo), are regarded as one of the best in the world, however that many animals in glass cases is also a bit eerie. In addition to a ton of taxidermy, some original microscopes and old blown glass replicas of microscopic organisms add to the collection. 

With so many different museums to choose from in a city as diverse and culturally minded as Vienna, it was difficult to narrow down our decision, while also setting aside enough time to explore everything else the city offers. However we were extremely pleased with our visit, so pleased in fact that we count it as our favorite Natural History Museum of the trip - to date (Calli argues that this is a sign that we've visited too many). If you are interested in science, or geology, or even life in general, or if you have children, we'd highly recommend a visit and promise you won't be disappointed!

Calli and an elephant

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Calli and Travis returned from a four month trip through Europe more excited than ever to hit the open road. Who knows where they'll end up next...

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