It’s been months since our visit in February to the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution in Paris’ Jardin des Plantes. But as the weather gets colder, and we turn back to the indoors, I wanted to share this jewel box of a museum.
With four floors, there is a lot to see. The first floor is dedicated to species of the sea and the second to those of the land but the top two floors take a more philosophical approach with exhibits on man’s effect on the environment and evolution, and the mechanisms of evolution.
On our visit, we began with the second floor and its signature parade of exotic animals.
(Look at that little pudge! It’s always hard to believe how much they change in a few months. Élie was fascinated, especially by the elephants which he loves, but when the automated recording of an elephant trumpeting activated, he clung to his Papa for dear life, despite the volume being well adjusted to the space and not overly loud.)
The second floor opens above to the soaring ceiling, the top two floors being large balconies that run the entire perimeter of the space. You don’t notice it at first, it is so natural seeming, but that ceiling and the walls of the second floor are fitted with lighted panels that gradually change color and intensity to mimic a day on the savanna changing into evening. Sounds of insects and birds float through the space until you suddenly realize that is has become quite quiet and the panels have turned an ominous blue gray. The sound of a sudden downpour and thunderstorm sweeps through the floor as flashes of lightning travel across the ceiling. Then, as suddenly as it arrived, the storm is over and the panels melt into the soft colors of a rainbow after the storm. It is brilliant. And magical. Eventually the panels fade to a quiet night with crickets providing their song only to eventually start again with a dawn breaking and the day beginning. It is a testament to the place that the guards we encountered took great delight in telling us the little details not to be missed, like the one who smiled and told us “A storm is coming but watch the ceiling, there is a rainbow after!” when we noticed the change in atmosphere.
Of course, every kind of animal can be find here from the large and impressive to the tiny and delicate. And not just animals, plants are just as important in this story.
The backdrop of the exhibits, the building itself, is just as much a reason to visit as what is on display. Built in 1889, the museum was actually closed for years between 1965 and its reopening, relatively recently, in 1994. It has that wonderful, moody mix of its time: the elements of classical architecture refracted through the lens of the industrial revolution and the age of steam.
So there you have a peek into this treasure of Paris. It’s a wonderful place to visit and wander, and a perfect museum for children, too. Definitely put it on your list for a day indoors and check their website for film showings for both adults and children.
And I had to share these chairs for visitors to rest in because I just loved their design – such a perfect mix of echos of the space’s architecture and a modern sensibility!
36 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 70005 Paris
Jardin des Plantes