Simon Marcus Gower
Walking into the Natural History Museum in London is an experience that borders on the breathtaking. The architecture of this renowned and ground-breaking museum is grandiose to the point where it almost distracts from the exhibits.
Walking up the steps to the museum, it is not hard to see why it is often referred to as a “cathedral to nature.” Its design is vast and full of the details and ornamentation characteristic of great cathedrals. Stepping into the building, the Central Hall forms a spectacular welcome.
For this architectural splendor we must thank the Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse, who designed the building in the early 1870s. The museum opened in 1881.
The showpiece Central Hall is kept under the watchful gaze of a superb statue of the great natural historian Charles Darwin. At the hall’s center is the skeleton of a dinosaur. At about 25 meters, it is well-placed in the cavernous space, and it hints at the many dinosaurs that may be viewed in this world wonder of a museum.
Its dinosaur galleries are educational, entertaining and at times dramatic in the way they present these great beasts that once walked the Earth.
Perhaps the star attraction in this regard is the recreation of a Tyrannosaurus rex (or T-rex, as it is more familiarly known).
As you approach, loud roaring lets you know that what awaits is no dull and dusty museum exhibit. The atmosphere is augmented by menacing low lighting and a fog of misty dry ice is released into the T-rex’s swamp-like lair.
The life-sized animatronic model swings its enormous head as if to attack its visitors, and the teeth in its enormous mouth look ready to chomp. Small children may not feel entirely comfortable as the T-rex’s beady eyes seem to scan the visitors wondering who to eat. The model is very life-like with thick, leathery skin and careful coloring.
That attention to detail is important. Although the model is entertaining in its presentation, it is evident that much work has gone into representing the dinosaur as it most likely appeared when it walked the Earth. The museum is, after all, a place of science.
And for all its aesthetic appeal, education is the primary aim here. Visitors to the museum learn about what these creatures were probably like when they did rule the world.
The lives of dinosaurs are thoroughly and fascinatingly explored, from hatching to extinction — which here is definitively linked to a rapid change in the global environment and tends to give visitors some food for thought about mankind’s trajectory.
Along the way, nearly every conceivable fact about dinosaurs is addressed, from what they ate to how their bodies worked. We learn, not surprisingly, about their skeletons — a familiar sight at museums of this nature — right through to their likely musculature, how their organs worked and how they fed themselves.
It is an entertaining and educational package for the whole family. Children, so often fascinated by dinosaurs, get excited by the exhibits but, just as importantly, they are introduced to the science and research behind them. The dinosaurs are just one gallery in a museum dedicated to nature’s wonders, but it is the one kids will flock to — no bones about it.