On the border of the Luxembourg Gardens in the 6th arrondissement lies a hidden Parisian treasure unlike any other: The Musée de Minéralogie. This impressive mineralogy museum is part of the École des Mines de Paris, created by King Louis XVI in 1783. Housed in the Hôtel de Vendôme, built in 1707, this “grande école,” a member of the Paris Institute of Technology, is one of the most prestigious engineering institutions in France.
After a few wrong turns navigating the halls, we encountered a grand staircase surrounded by an impressive series of beautifully painted mining-related frescoes. As we climbed the original stone stairs, taking it all in, our curiousity piqued. At the entrance, next to a 50,000-year old-meteorite, we rang the doorbell and eagerly awaited entry into this mineral paradise.
After a short wait we were greeted by a charming and informative guide who excitedly took us through the collection. Entering the museum is like stepping into a 19th century time machine. Off an 80meter long hall that overlooks the neighboring gardens, the beautifully proportioned series of rooms transports you to another era. In fact, the whole experience is imbued with a sense of time travel as one gazes upon the almost overwhelming collection of earthly treasures that span the ages.
The museum houses one of the largest collections in the world, containing over 100,000 specimens with 4,500 items on display. In addition to minerals, rocks, meteorites, and crystals, the collection displays 252 gemstones from the jewels of the crown of France which the museum acquired in 1887—a definite highlight not be missed. Impeccably organized within thousands of Hungarian-oak cabinets custom built in the mid 1800s, it’s like stepping into the ultimate jewelry box.
After a thorough overview by our guide, we were left to explore the quiet, nearly empty museum on our own. In addition to the visual delights, we reflected upon the meaning of minerals in our daily lives. Most of us forget the role they play in so many of our everyday products, from makeup and mirrors to laptops and iPhones. Should you find yourself in Paris, we encourage you to experience this fascinating jewel-box for yourself. -Emerald Carroll for The Stone Set
Musée de Minéralogie at MINES ParisTech
60 boulevard Saint Michel
Photography by Emerald Carroll for The Stone Set