Naturhistorisches Museum Wien
Museum of Natural History Vienna

Naturhistorisches Museum and Kunsthistorisches Museum from the roof of the Karlskirche

The Naturhistorisches Museum is the twin of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien and mirrors the building in Italian-like neo-Renaissance style. The impressive court was designed by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr of Hasenauer and built between 1872 and 1891. If there was a museum of museums - I love this idea - the Naturhistorisches Museum would be one of the most prominent items on display.

This is actually the Kunsthistorisches Museum - but the Naturhistorisches looks just the same.

Until a few years ago, little had changed since the opening in 1889: Most of the exhibition consisted of stuffed animals on bad-hair-days, German labels in 19th century fonts and the original boxes that hold pieces of dead animals and plants. The World's largest collection of meteorites was presented in the least imaginative way possible and the "former crown lands" were still referred to as if they were part of the Empire.

Visitors had to ignore that Galicia and Bessarabia are part of the Ukraine now, that Siebenbürgen has expelled its Germanic population half a century ago, changed its name and is part of Romania now, or that Illyria has been part of half a dozen of different countries until it turned Croatian a few years ago. History? Rubbish, this is about Natural History - and so the Empire persisted. Who would dare to care whether a rock is Austrian, Bulgarian or Italian?

A re-vamped Museum: Back to State-of-the-Art

Personally, I was very fond of the old Natural History Museum with all its dust and concentrated reasons for boredom. In some sense unfortunately, this has been changed over the course of the past few years: With the investments of vast amounts of money and a lot of dedication, much of the collection was re-vamped and is now presented in a living, modern and child-friendly manner.

Some galleries were preserved in their original states and only supplemented with information on famous researchers that have worked for the museum - it is these galleries where you can still experience the patina of the old Naturhistorisches. However, most of the museum can now be compared to its equivalents in other major cities in Europe and the US, whilst still managing to resist the tackiness of animated dinosaurs.

A mix of Old & New Attractions

Instead, a Vivarium was opened in the basement, which proved to be hugely popular especially with the many children that now flock into the "new" Natural History Museum. There is a model of ice-man Ötzi, ancient graves, an amazing collection of fossils, lots of information in both German and English on the different parts of the exhibition and hands-on exhibits especially for children. The most famous piece of the museum's collection actually doesn't really fit into a museum of natural history.

One of Austria's oldest chicks: The 'Venus of Willendorf'

The "Venus of Willendorf", a fat, naked woman carved into a piece of limestone, is considered to belong to Austria's oldest pieces of art and was found in the Wachau area in Lower Austria. It is a 25,000 year old piece of evidence that Austrians really are obsessed with nudity. Other objects that a fascinating, but somewhat out of place belong to the exhibition on the Hallstatt Culture. Jewellery, pottery and other pieces of craft of this Iron Age culture were found on a cemetery ("Gräberfeld") in Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut.

Frequently, the museum is kissed by the 21st century when temporary exhibitions add an aspect of the modern age to the Imperial site. You might have an opportunity to visit a state-of-the-art exhibition on current issues of science and technology.

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Further Reading

Top-Attractions & Where to Go in Vienna

More on Animals: Tiergarten Zoo Schönbrunn

Official Website of the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien