The Museum of Natural History in Perpignan has a long, long, long history in the city. The creation of the natural history cabinet (as it was called then) dates to 8 October 1770. It was established to assist with the teaching of sciences at France’s eighth university which had recently opened in Perpignan.
The collection has undergone many changes and long periods of disuse. Though in the 20th century it has become a cult favorite more for it’s longevity than the quality of the specimens. Over the years these more out of date research museums had a tendency to close (at least those in towns outside of Paris), however the citizens of Perpignan view their visits to the museum as a form of homage to the most ancient and respected cultural institution of the town.
The permanent exhibition is filled with rare or extinct animals of the Eastern Pyrenees, many bird species, insect, reptiles, a few mammals, marine life, minerals and crystals, and an odd collection african ethnological objects. There is also an Egyptian mummy from the XXIII dynasty on display in its sarcophagus. Apparently a one Mr. Ibrahim Pacha in 1847 donated it after a thermal treatment in Vernet-les-Bains. The room is very, very dark and the mummy, unwrapped, is very hard to see. The sarcophagus is actually three layers. The one with the actual mummy, a middle section that enclosed the first one, and the outer one. The outer layer is badly damaged and not much of the colors survive from the painting. The middle section however, is stunning and untouched. The last layer with the mummy was in so much shadow within the display area that it was hard to determine the shape it was in.
The one thing we did find as odd was that there was no plant displays. One of the reviews we read prior to our visit said that it wasn’t worth the trip as it was nothing but old plants on display. We were a little shocked to find no plants at all. However, there was a room being remodeled on the ground floor, so it’s possible that we missed it due to construction.
All in all it was a very nice “boutique museum” my new term for these small museums that have so much character.
And yet again, we were practically the only ones in the place. There is something special about having a place of learning all to yourself for a little while, being able to explore as long as you like, read all the information, take photos, to wander at your leisure and to be able to see everything they have to offer.
I think we’ll be looking for a few more of these boutique museums, like the doll museum that I just found while researching something else — over 500 versions of the Bella doll manufactured right in Perpignan — but after the dinosaur museum that Alan discovered the other day!
This little museum was quite a gem, just like the former mansion that houses the collection which is stunning as well!