Friday, January 02, 2009

Musée océanographique de Monaco

In Monaco, we visited the world famous oceanographic museum. Founded in 1889, it is one of the oldest such institutions. In 1957, Jacques Cousteau became president, and raised the research profile.

The museum is dramatically located on a high cliff, directly on the waterfront. It is a typical belle époque building, with tall ceilings and ornate decorations. Its basement hosts an aquarium; the exhibition spreads over two floor above. Finally, the rooftop provides a most excellent view over Monte Carlo.

The aquarium consists of one large tank, with rays, turtles and sharks, and ca. 30 smaller tanks, with various fish from the red sea and the Mediterranean. The displays are not as ‘real-life’ as others I have seen. Yet, the museum is outstanding, since most tanks feature live coral. This is made possible, by pumping several million liters of fresh seawater into the tanks every single day. Also, some of the breeding programs at the museum are tremendously successful. (In contrast, most other aquariums use fake coral and rely entirely on catching fish in the wild.)

The museum is one of the most beautiful I have seen. Dating back to a time, where the first dinosaur bones and exotic animals excited the Western high society, it resembles more of a salon, than a mere functional museum. The architecture itself is worth a visit.

Most objects on exhibition are historic, illustrating the ling history of Monaco’s marine research and fishing. Many objects date back to the expeditions of Albert the 1st, who had founded the museum. While a conservationist in the widest meaning of the term, Albert certainly was no hippie. Several wall-mounts hold his harpoons and knives, used by him personally for whaling.

We spent about 2.5 hours, and 12 Euros, all well invested.