La Rochelle Natural History Museum, Charente-Maritime visitors guide
Visit La Rochelle Natural History Museum, France
The Natural History Museum in La Rochelle largely presents the colections of the great French explorers of the early 19th century, as they set out to discover the unexplored regions of the world. The museum is very effective at making you realise how extraordinary the world must have seemed to people at that time.
Explore La Rochelle Natural History Museum
The tour of the museum starts with exhibits of the flora and fauna native to the Poitou-Charentes region - lizards, fish, insects, small mammals etc - presented in numerous glass display cabinets. It also has an educational purpose, explaining the problems caused by some of the invasive species such as the ragondin and the muskrat.
The real adventure starts as you go to the first floor, passing a giraffe that was presented to Charles X in 1826, and was the first giraffe to be seen in France. A present from Egypt, the giraffe walked the 800 kilometres from Marseille to Paris to be presented to the King, attracting a great deal of attention on the way. The giraffe spent many years living in France and being admired, and was carefully preserved after its death.
The first floor contains numerous stuffed animals - bison, gnou, anteaters, tiger, zebra, gorilla etc - and is a slightly startling room to find yourself in, so lifelike are the animals: you really expect them to leap to life, although the choice of animals - a polar bear next to a tiger for example, makes you feel a little like being on a Walt Disney film set.
Be sure to search out Himantolophus rheinhardtii, a curious beast in a glass tank that has surely been the inspiration for many a horror film alien!
Moving past drawings and etchings prepared by the early explorers you reach the floor dedicated to primitive life and activities. Weapons, decorative tribal gear, figurines and so on...and a couple of shrunken heads.
The top floor is perhaps the most fascinating of all in the La Rochelle Natural History Museum. With a focus on primitive religions, sacred beliefs and shamanism, there are numerous very large exhibits of sculptures, statues and costumes. Among the highlights are the two-headed person near the entrance, the voodoo statue (replete with nails) and the startling red-cloth 'person' at the far end of the hall.
During the course of the visit you also see videos showing how the masks and implements were used in rituals, what kind of music was played, and the function of various of the exhibits.
Overall a visit to the museum was much more interesting than I had anticipated, is both entertaining and educational, and is highly recommended.
Adjacent to the museum, the Jardin des Plantes is a large and carefully planted garden with numerous interesting plants (free to enter even if you don't visit the museum).
Map of La Rochelle Natural History Museum and places nearby
Visit near La Rochelle Natural History Museum with France This Way reviews
... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Charente-Maritime
Plan your visit to La Rochelle Natural History Museum, Charente-Maritime
Sightseeing & tourist attractions to visit nearby
- La Rochelle: secteur sauvegarde
- Aquarium de La Rochelle: aquarium
- La Flotte-en-Re: most beautiful village (14 km)
- Saint-Martin-de-Ré citadelle (Vauban fortifications): heritage site (17 km)
- Marans: ville fleurie 4* (21 km)
- Jardins du phare de Chassiron: remarkable garden (22 km)
- Jardins de la Boirie: remarkable garden (27 km)
- Rochefort: town of art and history (28 km)
- Ars-en-Re: most beautiful village (28 km)
- Forêt de Benon: site of natural beauty (29 km)
- Baie de l'Aiguillon: site of natural beauty (29 km)
- Eglise de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption (Maille): religious monument (35 km)
The French version of this page is at La Rochelle Natural History Museum (Francais)