Naturhistorisches Museum: a large natural history museum in Vienna

Naturhistorisches Museum also known as the NHMW, is a large natural history museum located in Vienna, Austria. The museum’s earliest collections of artifacts were begun over 250 years ago. Today, its collections on display cover 8700 sqm.

Naturhistorisches Museum

As of 2011, the museum houses approximately 30 million objects and the number is growing. Behind the scenes, collections comprising some 25 million specimens and artefacts are the essential basis for the work of over 60 staff scientists.

Their main fields of research cover a wide range of topics from the origins of our Solar system and the evolution of animals and plants to human evolution, as well as prehistoric traditions and customs.

Naturhistorisches Museum Building

The main building of the Museum is an elaborate palace that has accommodated these constantly growing collections, since opening to the public in 1889 as the Imperial Natural History Museum.

vienna museum of natural history

However, some of the collections had been moved from even older buildings, such as the Hofbibliothek which contained the Zoology Cabinet collections.

The interaction of the building, its ornate decoration, furniture and precious exhibits makes the museum itself an artifact for historical preservation.

Famous and irreplaceable exhibitsfor instance, the 25,000 year-old Venus of Willendorf, a copy of the skeleton of a Diplodocus dinosaur (Diplodocus carnegii) (a gift from Andrew Carnegie) and specimens of long-extinct lifeforms such as Steller’s sea coware displayed across thirty-nine halls.

A contemporary presentation of the exhibits, using modern exhibition technology, has been possible without any destruction of the building’s historical structures.


On the upper floor precious stones, minerals (some with origin in old Renaissance collections) and meteorites (the largest display collection in the world) can be seen, along with large dinosaur displays and rare fossils, and along with prehistoric art works: the Venus von Willendorf, the skeleton of Diplodocus, a giant topaz crystal weighing 117 kg (258 lb), and the gemstone-and-diamond bouquet of flowers which Maria Theresia had made as a present for her husband.

The first floor displays the species variety of the animal world, from protozoa to insects to highly developed mammals.

Objects over 200 years old are of interest, not only on their own account but also as historical records for the history of science and the art of taxidermy: numerous stuffed animals of species either extinct, or extremely endangered, have made the collections irreplaceable.

Note that some signs and explanations in the museum are in German, while much of the museum is in German and English following a recent renovation.

History of Naturhistorisches Museum

The Naturhistorisches Museum building opened in 1889 at the same time as the Kunsthistorisches Museum. The two museums have identical exteriors and face each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz. The Museum was built to house the huge collection of the Habsburgs.


Both buildings were built between 1872 and 1891 on the Ringstraße according to plans drawn up by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer.

The insect collections date from 1793 when Franz I of Austria purchased the scientific collections of Joseph Natterer, Sr.. In 1806 the museum purchased a collection of European insects made by Johann Carl Megerle von Mühlfeld, and Megerle became the first curator of insects.

He organised the purchase of the Gundian collection of European butterflies. These old collections with Megerle’s specimens were destroyed in October 1848, during a Hofburg fire; however, Johann Natterer’s journey to Brazil (1817−1835) had led to an enormous enhancement of the collections: 60,000 insects were a part of the «Brazilian museum» in the «Harrach' house» and escaped the fire.

In 1859, the frigate SMS Novara returned from a world voyage with Georg Ritter von Frauenfeld and Johann Zelebor, and the insects were incorporated in the Vienna collections.

These were worked on by Ludwig Redtenbacher (Coleoptera), Friedrich Moritz Brauer (Neuroptera and Diptera), Henri Louis Frederic de Saussure (Hymenoptera excluding Formicidae), Gustav Mayr (Formicidae and Hemiptera), Ignaz Rudolph Schiner (Diptera), C Felder, R. Felder and Alois Friedrich Rogenhofer (Lepidoptera).

The present museum organization dates from 1876. The entomologists Ganglbauer and Karl Holdhaus (Coleoptera), Rogenhofer and Hans Rebel, Josef Emanuel Fischer von Röslerstamm, Josef Johann Mann (Lepidoptera), Franz Friedrich Kohl, Carl Tschek and Maidl (Hymenoptera), Brauer (Diptera and Neuroptera), and Anton Handlirsch (for fossil insects) contributed substantially to the international reputation of the museum.

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