Natural History Museum, Vienna

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Natural History Museum
Naturhistorisches Museum
Wien - Naturhistorisches Museum (1).JPG
Establishedbetween 1872 and 1889
LocationVienna, Austria
DirectorChristian Koeberl

The Natural History Museum Vienna (German: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien) is a large natural history museum located in Vienna, Austria.[1][2] and one of the most important natural history museums worldwide.

The NHM Vienna is one of the largest museums and non-university research institutions in Austria and an important center of excellence for all matters relating to natural sciences. The museum’s 39 exhibition rooms cover 8,460 square meters and present more than 100,000 objects. It is home to 30 million objects available to more than 60 scientists and numerous guest researchers who carry out basic research in a wide range of topics related to human sciences, earth sciences, and life sciences.[1]


One of the museum's halls

The history of the Natural History Museum Vienna is shaped by the passion for collecting of renowned monarchs, the endless thirst for knowledge of famous scientists, and the spirit of adventure of travelling researchers. True to the spirit of the inscription carved into the front of the museum, scientists at the NHM Vienna have over the centuries dedicated themselves and their work “to the realm of nature and its exploration”.

While in the 19th century this was expressed through major imperial research expeditions to little-known corners of the Earth, today it can be found in modern DNA analysis methods and meteorite research providing insights into unfamiliar worlds and the outer extremes of our cosmos.

The earliest collections of the Natural History Museum Vienna date back more than 250 years. It was Emperor Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, Maria Theresa’s husband, who in 1750 purchased what was at the time the world’s largest and most famous collection of natural history objects from the Florentine scholar and scientist Jean de Baillou. This was the first step on the road to creating the Natural History Museum Vienna.

Baillou’s collection comprised 30,000 objects, including rare fossils, snails, mussels, and corals, as well as valuable minerals and precious stones.

Franz I Stephan of Lorraine, who founded the Schönbrunn zoo in 1752 and the botanical garden in 1753, also organized the first scientific overseas expedition. In 1755 he commissioned Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin to travel to the Caribbean, the Antilles, Venezuela, and Colombia. Jacquin returned from this expedition with many live animals and plants for the zoo and the botanical garden, as well as 67 cases full of other items of interest from the natural world.

After the Emperor’s death, Maria Theresa gave the natural science collection to the state and opened it up to the general public. Thus she created the first museum in line with the principles and visions of the Enlightenment.

It was Maria Theresa who brought the famous mineralogist Ignaz von Born to Vienna. Born, who had developed a new method of extracting precious metals, was tasked with classifying and expanding the collections. To this end he had minerals from many different regions sent to Vienna, where they were added to the collection. Under the leadership of Ignaz von Born the cabinet of natural history quickly developed into a center of practical research.[2]


Main staircase in the museum building

The main building of the museum is an elaborate palace that has accommodated these constantly growing collections, since opening to the public in 1889 as the Imperial Natural History Museum.[3] However, some of the collections had been moved from even older buildings, such as the Austrian National Library, which contained the Zoology Cabinet (German: Tierkabinett) collections.[4]

The interaction of the building, its ornate decoration, furniture and precious exhibits makes the museum itself an artifact for historical preservation.[3]

Famous and irreplaceable exhibits – for instance, the 25,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf, a copy of the skeleton of a Diplodocus dinosaur (Diplodocus carnegii) (a gift from Andrew Carnegie) and specimens of long-extinct lifeforms such as Steller's sea cow – are displayed across thirty-nine halls. A contemporary presentation of the exhibits, using modern exhibition technology, has been possible without any destruction of the building's historical structures.[3]


On the upper floor (Hochparterre) precious stones, minerals (some with origin in old Renaissance collections) and meteorites (the largest display collection in the world) can be seen, along with large dinosaur displays and rare fossils, and along with prehistoric art works: the Venus von Willendorf, the skeleton of Diplodocus, a giant topaz crystal weighing 117 kg (258 lb), and the gemstone-and-diamond bouquet of flowers which Maria Theresia had made as a present for her husband.[5]

The first floor displays the species variety of the animal world, from protozoa to insects to highly developed mammals. Objects over 200 years old are of interest, not only on their own account but also as historical records for the history of science and the art of taxidermy: numerous stuffed animals of species either extinct, or extremely endangered, have made the collections irreplaceable.[5]

Note that some signs and explanations in the museum are in German, while much of the museum is in German and English following a recent renovation.


See also[edit]

Other major museums in Vienna


  1. ^ Jovanovic-Kruspel, Stefanie (2012). Natural History Museum Vienna - A guide to the collections. Wien: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien. pp. 5, 7.
  2. ^ "the history of the nhm vienna".
  3. ^ a b c (in German) NHM-Wien-overview, "Museum of Natural History in Vienna" (overview), Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, 2011.
  4. ^ "History (Hauptframe)" (overview), Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria, 2011, webpage:NHMW-history.
  5. ^ a b NHM-Wien-preview-English, "Museum of Natural History in Vienna" (English overview), Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, 2011.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 48°12′19″N 16°21′36″E / 48.2052°N 16.3599°E / 48.2052; 16.3599