It took 170 years to put together this collection, which boasts more than 10,000 exhibits! Stuffed animals, stones, fossils and herbariums, a huge number of donations and acquisitions that combined now constitute a priceless heritage. There’s something for everyone here. Thanks to the 1,000 m2 and one hundred display cases, you can get up close and personal with birds, fish, mammals, insects, reptiles and much more, all free of charge. Our family gave it a go!
Hundreds of animals
We start in the savannah, giving our daughters the chance to pose with a zebra and a rather impressive black gnu. The information panels explain the different kinds of savannah, how they are formed, and the animals that live there. A lovely entrance way plunges you into a world of visual discovery.
The children have lots of questions to ask, they’re comparing sizes, they can’t take their eyes of all the “cute” animals. As for the others, we keep our distance, no touching. Further away, some specimens of birds, owls and cockatoos are surprisingly large. Particularly interesting is the Andean condor, almost as big as our eldest, Alice! Everything about this bird is impressive. A wingspan of 3.2 m, living almost to the age of 50, flying at an altitude of between 3,000 and 5,000 metres. Unfortunately, it is an endangered species. I put on my teacher’s hat to explain that it lives off young children. Epic fail – everyone’s already moved on to the sturgeon 2.1 metres long, caught in 1873 in the nearby Haine in Saint-Ghislain. Another fine specimen weighing 45kg! A pelican, an albatross, big cats, a larger-than-life bison… and even a whale’s jaw. All around you there’s something else to see, it would be impossible to list them all.
The “Géant Constantin” a skeleton eight feet tall
There are plenty more surprises upstairs. An educational area with models and explanatory panels about the mines at Spiennes tell us about flint mining in Neolithic times. A human skeleton dating back to the 1185 siege of Mons stands proud before us, keeping watch. Another exceptional exhibit is the full skeleton of the “Géant Constantin”, or Julius Koch, who was born in Germany and died in Mons in 1902. “It’s impossible, it can’t be real!” exclaims 8 year-old Alice, who’s 4½ feet tall. But it is indeed real. Julius was 8 feet tall and weighed 165kg. This circus giant died at the age of 28 of gigantism. Even today, he is still the subject of studies and lectures. Alice compares this “giant” skeleton with the condor we saw earlier… A shiver runs through her. Maybe that story about the child who disappeared is true!