The Baroque Revival building seems to rise out of the cliff of Monaco-Ville. It towers just shy of 280 feet from the sea, hugging onto the sheer cliff face. Construction was started in one century and finished in another. By 1910, Prince Albert I of Monaco inaugurated the building as the Musée Océanographique.
Today the building hosts not just one museum, but many: it is an aquarium, a cabinet of curiosities, a museum about whales and local marine life, and a museum featuring the sailing career of the building’s founding prince.
A baby sea turtle followed me around the aquariums, darting this way and that way, so quickly I could hardly photograph him! And there must have been a hundred baby clownfish in another exhibit. I remember from my days working at the aquarium in Saguenay that the French actually call clownfish “Nemos”, just like the main character in the Pixar movie, Finding Nemo. Somehow, calling them les petits nemos is infinitely cute than the English equivalent of “little clownfish”.
I’ve always liked jellyfish, provided that they are not swimming in the ocean beside me. But in aquariums they fascinate me, where they seem more like flying UFO’s than sea creatures. I got some really neat shots of a couple different species.
Also in the museum was the chance to touch some real sharks. I was too busy enjoying the experience to take any photos, but there was a Starry Smooth-Hound shark that seemed to take a liking to me. I didn’t have to worry about becoming dinner though. This shark, found in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, is only about 3 feet long at maturity and lives in coastal waters to feed on mollusks and crustaceans. I wasn’t anywhere on the menu.
The museum’s cabinet of curiosities was phenomenally exhibited. The old architecture really created a great display for the objects from the museum’s opening in 1910. Some of the items still had their handwritten tags from the early 20th century.
There were a couple of old scuba diving suits, as well as a submarine from 1776 called the “Bushnell Tortoise”. The American David Bushnell created and perfected his underwater submarine, being the first inventor to use a propeller to move a water vessel. One hand crank moved a horizontal propeller and another one moved a vertical propeller. The device was steered using a rudder. There was an air intake and a torpedo as well. The submarine actually did get used, against English ships during the American Civil War. I’m sure glad I don’t have to get into one of those! They just don’t seem like the safest travelling option…
By far, the creepiest item on display was a Japanese mermaid hoax. These have been “found” all over the world throughout the ages, however there was a surge in their occurrences during the Victorian era. All are fakes, mostly coming from Japan. They were created by attaching a monkey torso to a fish tail. They are the creepiest mermaids I have ever seen!
Prince Albert I, the museum’s founder also led a fairly illustrious sailing career, which is displayed in another wing of the Oceanographic Museum. There are some of his published works encompassing his discoveries as well. Also on display is a recreation of the laboratory from the two-master rigging schooner named Hirondelle II. This was the fourth vessel of Prince Albert I, who used it for his expeditions from 1911 until 1915.
Finally, the museum on whales and marine life hosted many preserved skeletons of various local animal, some of which has since become extinct in the region. The whales were ginormous, as was the scary equipment used to hunt them. But there was a pretty little starfish there that I quite liked the looks of too.
I loved my time at the Oceanographic museum, as it meshed together some of my favourite things: history, animals, museums and hands-on experiences. I only wish there were more place like this closer to home – I could spend a week in a place like this!