Museum of Natural History and Ethnography – Colmar, France - Atlas Obscura

Colmar, France

Museum of Natural History and Ethnography

A charming little museum founded by the designer of the Statue of Liberty. 

In the Alsace town of Colmar, there is a hidden treasure: the Museum of Natural History and Ethnography, a charming little museum home to a fascinating array of natural specimens and artifacts from ancient Egypt and beyond.

The museum’s story begins in 1859 when the Colmar Society of Natural History and Ethnography was founded by the French sculptor and Colmar native Auguste Bartholdi, who later in life would design the iconic Statue of Liberty gifted to New York. The goal of this modest scientific society was to contribute to the pursuit of human knowledge by encouraging interest in the natural and human sciences, and particularly the study of the ancient Egyptian civilization. 

Only a year later, in 1860, the collection that had been amassed had become so large, the members decided it would be better to house the artifacts in a museum where they could be properly enjoyed by the public. A large building that had once been a convent was purchased by the society and became the site of the popular new museum. The collection would relocate two more times in the century that followed before occupying its final and current location in 1984.  

Although the museum contains many interesting objects relating to natural history and ethnology from around the world, it is perhaps the ancient Egyptian artifacts that stand out as the most interesting. One of the highlights is an Egyptian mummy, the macabre remains of a noblewoman named Nesy-Khonsou-Pakhered who lived and died in the ancient city of Thebes during the 21st dynasty (around the 11th to 10th century BC). Nesy’s mummified remains were discovered by the archeologist Jean-François Champollion in 1832 when her ornately decorated sarcophagus was excavated from a tomb. At the time, Europe was gripped by “Egyptomania,” and like many ancient mummies, Nesy was brought back to France to be studied as a curiosity. She eventually ended up in the collection at Colmar, where she has intrigued generations of visitors to the museum. 

Know Before You Go

The Museum of Natural History and Ethnography in Colmar (Le Musee d'Histoire Naturelle et d'Ethnographie de Colmar) is open Mondays and Wednesday through Saturday (closed on Tuesdays) from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The entrance fee is 5 euro.

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