Sunday, November 26, 2006
Musée de Minéralogie de l'École des Mines
This afternoon I went to visit the Musée de Minéralogie de l'École des Mines, which is to say, the Mineralogical Museum of the School of Mines. It is a rather wonderful place: a great gallery some 70m long containing breath-taking displays of rocks and minerals. The long gallery looks out through arched windows over the Jardins de Luxembourg giving the place a 19th Century air.
The collection includes some 100,000 specimens collected over a period of more than 200 years. The museum is entered via a wood-panelled staircase that has 19th Century landscapes and portraits set into the walls. Paintings of geologists and celebrated mountains like the Cirque de Garvanie to set the scene.
Inside are cases of minerals that fluoresce. Examples of peridotite in which huge chunks of different minerals sit jumbled together like massively magnified chocolate chip crunch bars. A wierd black crystal shaped like a multi-bladed science-fiction sword. White crystals that are natural Brancusi sculptures. Huge masses of sour yellow sulphur crystals. Large diamonds peeking from great black masses of kimberlite.
It is fascinating to browse the displays and learn about which minerals come from the different regions of France. But the samples come from all over the world: pink beryl from the Wha-Wha Mountains of Utah; blue beryl from the Adun Tschilon Mountains of Siberia; Wernerite from Walling Ford lake, Quebec; Chrysocolle from Etoile de Congo, Zaire; Scapolite from Adranondrambo, Madagascar; Sepiolite from the Sari Sou Mine, Anatolia.
The range of colours of the minerals is extraordinary: violet, brilliant green, scarlet, iridescent blue - as are some of the textures and patterns in the rocks: native copper dendrites, delicate silver fern-like crystals, strange spherical structures in granite. And there is plenty of information for the curious: such as the information that obsidian, a black volcanic glass, was used by the Hittites around 5000 BC to make black mirrors.
Currently, there is an exhibition about Mount Etna and the geologists who have studied it. Among them were Léonce Elie de Beaumont who made models of Etna in the 19th Century and thought that all relief on the earth's surface were organised according to a geometrical model: "the pentagonal network". There are some of his original models of the earth covered with criss-crossing lines that apparently connect centres of activity such as volcanoes.
You can find more information about the museum here.