Dedicated to the natural world, the National History Museum in South Kennsington houses one of the world’s largest natural history collection with more than 70 million specimens of immeasurable scientific, historic and cultural value. Initially part of the British Museum it moved into Alfred Waterhouse’s truly magnificent building on Cromwell Road in 1881. The collection was started by the naturalist Sir Hans Sloane and grew into the impressive collection it is today, which ranges from minerals, stones and fossils to huge dinosaur skeletons.
The building, already breathtakingly beautiful on the outside, is even more impressive once you walk into the great entrance hall, where a 26 m long Diplodocus skeleton greets its visitors (it is due to be replaced by a blue whale skeleton in 2017). From the entrance hall visitors can disperse into the different coloured zones (blue, red, green and orange), a turn to the left leads to the most popular Blue Zone which exhibits dinosaurs, massive mammals and a life size, moving and roaring model of a T-Rex.
At the end of the entrance hall, on top of a flight of stairs, sits a white marble statue of Charles Darwin who seems to watch the comings and goings of curious visitors. The stairs to the right lead to my favourite section of the museum – Treasures.
Treasures, located in the Cadogan Gallery, show-cases the museum’s 22 most highly prized specimens, selected from a collection of more than 70 million, they span 4.5 million years of earth’s history! Each object tells a remarkable story that shaped our understanding of the natural world.
The objects range from an archaeopteryx fossil, a meteorid and moon rock to a dodo skeleton. Dodo’s were huge flightless birds on the island of Mauritus where they lived undisturbed until the first human settlements. The last sighting of them was in 1662. It owes its fame to Lewis Carroll who featured the dodo in his book ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.
To me, the most beautiful objects in the Cadogan gallery are Hans Sloane’s nautilus shell and Blaschka’s glass art works of marine animals. The nautilus shell, carved by the Dutch artist Johannes Belkien in the late 1600s, was one of Sir Hans Sloane’s favourite specimens. The spiral of the nautilus is often seen as a perfect example of the golden ratio found in nature which Leonardo da Vinci applied in some of his paintings such as the Mona Lisa.
Blaschka’s beautifully detailed glass models of sea creatures have been created between 1866 to 1889 by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, a father and son team who came from a long line of skilled glass-makers. The museum holds 185 Blaschka models but only a few of these fragile eye-catching models are exhibited in the Cadogan gallery which are an exquisite crossover between science an art.
The gorgeous insect collection on display is from the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace’s personal collection. Wallace co-discovered the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin.
A beautiful corridor from the Cadogan Gallery leads to the Minerals Gallery where specimens are displayed in original oak cabinets dated from 1881.
At the end of the Minerals Gallery is an elegant and modern space called ‘The Vault’ which displays some of nature’s rarest and most valuable treasures. One of the highlights are the Aurora Diamonds – 296 coloured diamonds that have been collected for over 25 years by Alan Bronstein and Harry Rodman.
Visiting the National History Museum never gets boring, just wandering through the halls of the museum is an attraction in itself with its stunning architecture and displays on every corner. Treasures and the Minerals Gallery are just a few (and less crowded) of the things to see and do – plan in a few hours to explore the areas that you are interested in most. Also, don’t miss out on the museums fabulous exhibitions such as the Wildlife Photographer of the year! The more adventurous can even spend a night at the museum (check here for dates).
The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, Open daily 10.00-17.50, Admission: FREE
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