The geographical position of Crete as the southernmost part of Europe in the center of the Eastern Mediterranean and the rich, and diverse nature of the island served as good grounds for the creation of one of the largest Natural History Museum in the entire Mediterranean.
The museum was founded in December 1980 and operates under the framework of the School of Science of the University of Crete. Its main goal is to research and protect nature of the Eastern Mediterranean and popularize knowledge in the field of it among residents and visitors to the island. Of course, special attention is paid to Greece and Crete.
The development of the Museum was slow. Only since 1985, when sponsors and volunteers appeared, did things go faster: collections began to be actively created, updated and systematized. Today, the scientific collections of the Museum include more than 2,000,000 specimens.
Since 2007, the Museum has moved to a restored industrial building of the Public Power Corporation located on the waterfront near the Venetian port of Heraklion. The building is a metal structure with all kinds of steel beams and pipes: one can see it well inside. Another important achievement of the Museum was the creation of an exhibition area of 3,500 square meters, located on 4 levels. It uses the most modern technologies to provide visitors with a real understanding of nature of the Eastern Mediterranean.
A large part of the Museum’s exposition is made up of huge Mega-Dioramas where the whole variety of nature of Greece and Crete is realistically presented such as mountains and coastal forests, semi-deserts and other landscapes, land and sea ecosystems, as well as life-size models of animals and dinosaurs. Some of them are equipped with special mechanisms that allow them to move and make sounds. Don’t forget to watch movies in the Multimedia Room.
The Living Museum is home to animals that inhabit Crete and other Greek islands in terrariums, cages and aquariums. For the most part, these are various reptiles, birds, representatives of marine flora and fauna. There was also a place for extinct creatures; in particular, here you will see a giant life-size Deinotherium, the third largest mammal in the world: 7 m in length, 5 m in height. This distant ancestor of the elephant was the rightful owner of Crete 2 million years ago. A room with a collection of seashells sends to an even more distant past—there are more than 8200 of them.
The Stavros Niarchos Erevnotopos Discovery Center has developed a special program to educate children aged less than 15 years. The guys are exploring a large model of a ship, learning to distinguish the species of trees growing in the Mediterranean. There is a zone of holograms and optical illusions. The combination of modern technology, entertaining facts and lively presentation of the material make lectures exciting and interesting. Everything can be touched, and if you want to draw, a special employee immediately will invite you to a table, give pencils and paper.
In a special room, young researchers have a unique opportunity to learn more about the work of real paleontologists, and even become one of them. On a special site, young visitors can unearth their first “fossil”.
Erevnotopos is the only such center in Greece, created specifically for practical and participatory training for children.
Visitors are especially impressed by the “seismic table”—an earthquake simulator (“Egelados”). This is a unique playground where you can safely experience the real power of earth tremors. Once an hour, visitors sit down at their desks. The employee warns that if you have heart problems, it is best to refrain from this presentation.
The monitor lights up; the cartoon tells a brief instruction on how to behave during this natural disaster. Further on the screen appears the inscription “earthquake 3 points”, and slight tremors begin to pass through the room. The screen shows what kind of damage occurred at this level of earthquake. “An earthquake of 5 points”: tables begin to shake and chairs vibrate under visitors. The screen shows houses half destroyed, cracks in the ground. The earthquake intensifies: 8 points, and rubber paintings fall from the wall, and the room vibrates so hard that it clogs up the ears. On the screen, residential buildings have turned into heaps of garbage, trains are derailed, and tsunamis are washing the city off the face of the earth.
In addition, the Museum houses an impressive exhibition “Dinosaurs of Patagonia”.
As a part of the European program LIFE Natura 2000 Value Center, it was opened a hall dedicated to the ecosystem of Crete. Characteristics of the Natura 2000 protected areas of Crete are provided on 4 state-of-the-art interactive systems. Through participatory activities, using small and large screens in a pleasant and fun way, visitors can enjoy rare images of the Cretan countryside, understand the direct link between human activities and the environment, and learn how human activities can affect the ecological balance and health of the island’s nature.
In addition to the above mentioned permanent exhibitions, the Museum periodically hosts other exhibitions dedicated to various fields of knowledge and history. Many of them are not directly related to nature but will be of interest to a wide range of visitors.
The museum is not only a major exhibition center but also an international leader in scientific research on the nature of the Eastern Mediterranean. And since the museum is under the framework of the University of Crete, there are also educational programs.
In addition to the administrative, technical and exhibition services ensuring its work, the Museum includes several departments and laboratories engaged in scientific and educational activities. There are Departments of Botanic, Geodiversity, Arthropods, Invertebrates and Vertebrates as well as Ecology & Environmental Management Lab, Environmental Education Lab and Molecular Systematics Lab.
Web-site of the Museum: www.nhmc.uoc.gr
We commend you to visit the Natural History Museum of Crete as an educational place interesting for both adults and children.