Secrets of a natural history collection

From a learned society to one of the most significant museums in France

Le Quadrilatère des JésuitesMuseum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes

Come on in!

The museum is housed in a 17th-century building—a former Jesuit college with the entrance tucked away off a small courtyard. 

Notables de la Société d'étudeMuseum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes

Where it all began: a learned society

In 1871, a group of thinkers formed the Society for the Study of Natural Sciences of Nîmes and the Gard (SESNNG: Société d'étude de Sciences Naturelles de Nîmes et du Gard). This group of naturalists and explorers, specializing in botany, zoology, geology, and paleontology, came together with the aim to educate others and study. They also build their collections.

The curators

Stanislas Clément served as the museum's first curator from 1883 through to 1902. He worked to bring the various collections together and organized the museum's first exhibitions. His successor was Galien Mingaud, who held the post from 1902 through to 1912.

La première galerie de zoologieMuseum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes

The SESNNG moved into the museum

The SESNNG was required to relocate, so the city decided to found a museum in a former Jesuit college. The Society's collections were moved there, and the members set up their offices. On the second floor, they designed a zoology gallery dedicated to displaying mammals. The moose is still exposed.

La galerie d'herpétologieMuseum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes

Rooms filled with wonders …

The third floor contained further zoology exhibits, this time featuring fish, shells, various reptiles (both with scales and feathers), and amphibians. The entirety of the room was used to house exhibits—there were even snakes wrapped around the columns!

La galerie de botaniqueMuseum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes

… All the way to the top!

On the top floor, there was a display of insects, along with collections of items from botany, geology, and prehistory.

Salle Emilien Dumas, début du XXème siècleMuseum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes

The Emilien Dumas room (1804–1870)

Emilien Dumas was a geologist who developed a geological map of the Gard area. After his death, all of his material, the samples he had collected, and the map itself were given to the museum. The entire collection is housed in this room, alongside very old scientific literature. This holding is of great significance.

Salle Emilien Dumas de nos joursMuseum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes

The present day

Today, the museum's exhibits are based around four key themes: the geology of the Gard, prehistory, ethnology from the 1930s, and zoology. The various rooms have been renovated and some of the older galleries are now used as archives.

Hyène tachetée, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
,
Effraie des clochers, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
,
Mollusque bivalve du genre Spondylus, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
,
Papillons Troides, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
,
Poisson lune, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
Show lessRead more

The museum's zoology collections include a large portion of the animal kingdom, featuring local fauna from the Gard area as well as exhibits from the rest of the world. The collection consists of more than 20,000 samples, including mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, shells, and insects. The principal donors to this holding are Jean Crespon (1797–1857), Pierre-Joseph Amoreux (1741–1824), and Jean Therond (1899–1987).

Tranche de Pin de Monterey, Pinus radiata, Louis Roux, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
,
Liasse ouverte d'herbier, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
,
Coco-fesses, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
Show lessRead more

The botanical collections comprise more than 100,000 samples and include seeds, herbariums, and a wood collection known as a xylotheque. The principal donors are Jean-François Seguier (1703–1784) and Louis Roux (1825–1904).

Statue-menhir du Colombier, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
,
Masque Mossi de Haute Volta au caméléon, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
Show lessRead more

The museum also features collections from the humanities, with samples of local prehistoric artifacts and a display of the ethnology work performed in the early 20th century. The principal donors are Edouard Jaulmes (1860–1923) for ethnology, and Camille Hugues (1905–1986) and Jean-Frédéric Bayol (1870–1952) for prehistory.

Doigts fossiles de théropode, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
,
Fluorine et barite, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
Show lessRead more

The museum's other holdings explain the history of the Earth and of the creatures who have roamed it. The collection boasts tens of thousands of samples, including those related to geology and mineralogy, as well as fossils of extinct plants and animals. The principal donors are Emilien Dumas and Jean-François Seguier.

Statistique Géologique, Minéralogique, Metallurgique et Paléontologique du Gard, Emilien Dumas, 1875, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
,
Microscope de terrain d'Emilien Dumas, From the collection of: Museum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes
Show lessRead more

The museum also houses 45,000 scientific works from throughout history, with the oldest dating from the 16th century. We also have a collection of scientific tools and instruments. The museum also has its own planetarium, located in Mont-Duplan, just 15 minutes from the main museum building.

Le PlanétariumMuseum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes

The planetarium 

The museum also has its own planetarium, located in Mont-Duplan, just 15 minutes from the main museum building.

Le Museum d'histoire naturelleMuseum d'histoire naturelle et préhistoire de Nîmes

Credits: Story

Realization: Ville de Nîmes - Muséum d'histoire naturelle et de préhistoire  
Iconography: © Ville de Nîmes - Muséum d'histoire naturelle et de préhistoire    

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Nîmes
Discover the history and heritage of the City of Nîmes, Southern France
View theme
Google apps