The Museum of Natural History

Host incredible collection of Natural History since the 18th Century

By Sistema Museale Università di Parma

Galleria della Sistematica_6Sistema Museale Università di Parma

The Museum of Natural History

Parma University Museum of Natural History is the oldest one inside Parma University Museums System (SMA) and holds an important and varied collection of natural history specimens and archives.It is home to a lively programme of research, teaching and events focused on the sciences of the natural environment.

Galleria della Sistematica_1Sistema Museale Università di Parma

The Museum of Natural History is located on two separate places.

Sede storicaSistema Museale Università di Parma

The original building, at the first floor of Parma University Main Court (Via Università, 12), holds different collections such as: “Bottego Eritrean zoological collection” and “Piola collection”.

Galleria della Sistematica_7Sistema Museale Università di Parma

In the Galleria della Sistemica the “Fourcault collection” and the fossilised remains of a minke whale found in our region are on display.

Sede didatticaSistema Museale Università di Parma

The didactic structure is housed inside the Botanical Garden (Via Farini, 90). It hosts a series of historical specimens encompassing the natural world.

The zoology collection comprises various animal specimens and fossils related to the Parma area (Del Prato collection and Strobel collection); many Lepidoptera specimens (Boarini Collection) and an invertebrate palaeontology collection. Finally the Ferrante collection hosts an interesting Congolese ethnographic collection.

La vetrinaSistema Museale Università di Parma

Jean-Baptiste Fourcault Collection

This small and important collection, dating back to the eighteenth century, can boast the most ancient origin among the Museum of Natural History collections. This is what remains of the largest collections of father Jean-Baptiste Fourcault, monk of the monastery Convento dei Minimi from 1719 up to 1775 and ornithologist at the court of the duke Filippo I Borbone in Parma. Fourcault gave rise to the valuable Cabinet of Ornithology in 1766. The collection treasures thirty-six specimens ( 35 birds and 1 mammal) prepared and sealed in glass flasks by Father Jean Baptiste Fourcault with extreme skill. Unfortunately the monk left no explanation about the technique used to introduce his fine animal specimens into flasks with narrow necks. Moreover the specimens of Forcault have absolutely natural and rather complicated poses to obtain and in some cases in the flask is also inserted more than one animal. A puzzle not yet solved after two centuries.

Porta del Museo di Storia Naturale - 23.12.1826Sistema Museale Università di Parma

In 1780 the new director Michele Girardi changed the name “Gabinetto di ornitologia” into the actual name “Museo di storia naturale”.

During the French rule the University was downgraded to an academy and the museum experienced a phase of abandonment.

Maria Luigia (Museo Glauco Lombardi)Sistema Museale Università di Parma

Maria Luigia and science

In 1814, after Napoleon’s abdication, the provisional government restored the University role and the Museum returned to its normal activity. It was the Duchess Maria Luigia who revived the museum thanks to her keen interest in Naturalia, so that the collections increased significantly through new acquisitions.

Palazzo del Giardino DucaleSistema Museale Università di Parma

In 1849 the duke Charles III of Bourbon abolished the University institution, but the museum transfer to the Ducal Garden palace caused irreversible damage to the collections. Later in 1856 it was definitively brought back to the current seat in Palazzo San Rocco.

Pellegrino StrobelSistema Museale Università di Parma

Pellegrino Strobel

In 1859 the malacologist and naturalist Pellegrino Strobel was called to Parma where he assumed the position of professor and finally director of the Museum of Natural History. Strobel was among the first Italian zoologists to follow the theory of evolution. Besides, he was the initiator of Palethnology together with his pupil Luigi Pigorini. Starting from a very compromised situation of the collections, he managed to reconstitute the museum, leading it to hire again its important cultural role in a new science vision.

Sala Bottego_1Sistema Museale Università di Parma

He was instructed by Pellegrino Strobel on the techniques relevant to collecting and preparing animal specimens as well as tanning animal skins.A guide to the museum was published by Strobel in 1891.

Vittorio Bottego

The Bottego collection was opened first to the public in Palazzetto San Rocchino (no longer existing) in 1891. The zoology collection was displayed on the basis of evolutionary criteria, more scientific than ostentatious. It represents the first display of Eritrean regional zoological fauna, mostly vertebrates, which populated Eritrea at the time. But who was Bottego? Vittorio Bottego, born in Parma in 1860, was an army officer and one of the first explorers of Jubaland in north-eastern Africa, now part of Somalia, where he led two expeditions. Bottego’s expedition objectives comprised scientific and geographical goals. From 1889 and 1891, while campaigning in eastern Africa, he committed himself to creating a scientific and organic collection of African animals to be donated to the University of Parma.

The Eritrean Museum was inaugurated in 1907 inside the actual building, also thanks to the contribution of Angelo Andres, Strobel’s trusted collaborator. The furnishings and the showcases were made to measure, maintaining an evolutionary arrangement as far as possible.

Maschera PiolaSistema Museale Università di Parma

Sala Piola

In the room next to the Bottego room, a small research collection of amateur naturalist Emilio Piola can be admired. It contains various zoo-ethnographic materials collected by captain Piola during his three years stay in Congo. His donation to the University of Parma, his native place, was made in 1907.The specimens displayed in this room are mostly of ethnologic interest: weapons, agricultural tools, stringed musical instruments, wood carvings. Of great interest are a wooden mask of the Boa tribe and a table carved with full-relief figures: the formal qualities are really remarkable in both finds. 

Maschera Piola_3Sistema Museale Università di Parma

The fauna from Central Africa has a few specimens, including a couple of okapia. The Okapia johnstoni is kin to the giraffe. These two specimens are the first ones arrived in Italy and probably also in Europe. The okapia johnstoni is the most iconic specimen held by the Museum.

Galleria della Sistematica_7Sistema Museale Università di Parma

Galleria della Sistematica

In 1923-25 Angelo Andres completed the Galleria della Sistematica by gathering and organizing evolutionarily the existing collections. A room of comparative anatomy was adjointed.It starts from the exposition of the primates and proceeds gradually towards the vertebrates of lesser complexity.The skeleton of a fossilized minke whale found in our region is displayed along the wall. At the bottom of the Galleria you can visit the “Sala degli scheletri” where various animal skeletons are mounted maintaining their natural poses. A narrow cupboard contains human skulls evidently belonged to Roman soldiers died in the first century AD in northern Italy.

Sede didatticaSistema Museale Università di Parma

The new didactic building

In 1980 the director Vittorio Parisi has established a didactic structure located at the Botanical Garden. Moreover some rooms have been opened to visitors. They include some fauna specimens, lepidoptera and remains relevant to biological evolution and history of the Parma area. Either the ornithological library Annibale Tornielli and the Congolese ethnographic collection Temistocle Ferrante have been placed here. The following director Maria Grazia Mezzadri continued the work of research and promotion of the collections and organized numerous scientific exhibitions as well as the relevant catalogues publication. Nowadays, first under the direction of Davide Csermely and currently under that of Cristina Menta, the systematic restoration of the specimens and the cataloging of all the museum finds is being carried out.The Museum staff organise and support engaging activities for students from state schools. They run taught sessions as well as interactive labs.

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