King Leopold II opened this Brussels museum in 1891, but the collection goes back to the 18th century when the Austro-Hapsburg rulers created a museum of natural science.
The collection was expanded to include fossils, stuffed animals, whale skeletons and insects. It also includes 5,000 butterflies and beetles, along with the skeleton of a Neanderthal man found in a cave near the village of Spy.
The museum is most famous for its collection of nine iguanodon skeletons found in 1878 in a Belgian coal mine. The bones were brought back to Brussels where they were stored in the Nassau Chapel on the Mont des Arts.
The Belgian palaeontologist Louis Dollo laboured for several years to assemble the nine skeletons in the chapel, using a system of pulleys to hold the bones in place while he worked out where they went. He concluded that the dinosaurs had all died at the same time in a bog during the Jurassic period, but the cause of their death remains a mystery.
The new museum included a special iron and glass hall where the dinosaurs were put on display. But Dollo made a mistake. He assumed that the dinosaurs stood on two legs, whereas scientists are now fairly certain that they went around on four legs. One of Dollo’s skeletons has been corrected, but the others remain standing.
During a recent renovation, the beautiful Dinosaur Hall was redesigned with dramatic lighting, interactive screens and child-friendly displays. Other sections have also been given a stylish makeover. It is now a vibrant museum to take your kids a rainy afternoon.
Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.