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Naturhistorisches Museum

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One of Vienna's most ornate and palatial buildings in a city brimming with wonderful architecture, the Naturhistorisches Museum is an absolute must for anyone visiting Vienna. Located on the north-west side of Maria Theresien Platz, one of Vienna's grandest squares, the building was constructed between 1872 and 1889 in a startling baroque style with tiled cupolas, doric columns, and a soaring 60 metre high dome. Save for a few variations in detail and material, the building is the exact replica of the Kunsthistorisches Museum on the other side of the square, and both were designed by the same architects, Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer, so make sure not to get the two confused before visiting.

While the exterior of this museum is impressive, the artifacts on display are even more incredible. The museum specialises in Natural History, with exhibits ranging from zoology specimens to pre-historic art, recovered meteorites to dinosaur fossils. In total there are some 30 million objects housed in the building, with a team of more than 60 scientific experts tending to, and studying, the various precious relics.

One of the most important exhibits on display in the Naturhistorisches Museum is the 25,000 year old Venus of Willendorf, a 4.3 inch paleolithic sculpture discovered in 1908. Carved from limestone and coloured with red ochre, the figure is one of the finest examples of pre-historic art in existence, and is said by scholars to be an ancient fertility symbol. Elsewhere in the building visitors can see huge dinosaur skeletons, re-assembled and standing upright, as well as extinct animals specimens, including the bovine fossil of a sea-cow, said to have lived in the oceans some 200 million years ago.

Not all the exhibits housed here are of the blockbuster variety, but the sheer scale and variety of objects displayed makes a tour of the building well worthwhile. On the upper floors visitors can cast their eyes over an astonishing collection of precious stones and rare minerals, including a giant, 258 pound topaz, crown jewels from the Habsburg family vaults and even unearthed examples of neolithic ornaments fashioned from beaten silver and gold. On the mezzanine level you can tour the history of life on earth, taking in rock fossils from more than 4 billion years ago, before advancing to the first floor where you will discover taxidermied animals from every corner of the globe, including rhinos, sharks, monkeys and kangaroos.

If you are averse to creepy-crawlies, then you may want to skip halls 21 to 24, where one of the world's most comprehensive displays of invertebrates and insects is on permanent display. This section includes rare butterfly specimens, over 60,000 insects from the Amazon rainforest, and up to 26,000 zoological and botanical items brought to Vienna in 1860 aboard the scientific expedition ship the SMS Novara.

If you do visit the Naturhistorisches Museum, try to set aside a good morning or afternoon dedicated to wandering around the historic halls of the building. With so much on display, and a mix of traditional collections and cutting-edge digital exhibitions, visitors are bound to get lost in the sheer scale of this breath-taking temple to natural history.


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