Musée Océanographique de Monaco

Monaco literally and spiritually faces the sea. Everyone's favorite Monaco museum, the Oceanographic institute is a strange and beautiful place. Located high above the water on the old town bluffs, the building houses a large collection of seafaring paraphernalia and a huge aquarium.
If you believe the brochures, the aquarium is stocked with over four thousand aquatic species. Collected on princely expeditions (hyperbole is too common in Monaco), the fish and crustaceans swim around in beautifully lit windows while the crowd mills in darkness. Eels gape, sharks circle, little bony things flit back and forth. It's not the most informative experience, but it's pretty.
The lighting and music make it all the more engrossing. The tanks - ninety of them - are split into two main halls, representing the Mediterranean and "tropical" seas. A popular shark and grouper tank is in between. Some of our favorites were the crustaceans and octopi, other people seemed more interested in the seahorses and clownfish.
(We're trying to get better at this videoing thing.)
The floors above are reserved for oddities and skeletons. It's difficult to tell what is what, as there's a definite shortage of plaques and info cards. It's all beautifully presented, though, with elegant framing and interesting displays. It's a museum set up more for effect than education. Blanched-white monsters lurk in formaldehyde jars, whale skeletons float above huge halls, diving suits stand at attention, rusty harpoons are fanned against the walls. There's a long wall of mother-of-pearl objects from the nineteenth century and a lot of photos from arctic expeditions.
Prince Albert I, who completed the museum in 1910, was an avid oceanographer. In his youth he served in both the Spanish and French navies, and later went on numerous voyages of exploration in the south Pacific and Antarctic oceans. His great-great-grandson, the current prince, is also enthusiastic about the seas - a royal, recorded message about tuna consumption plays on loop in the gift shop. The institute is actually quite important, with a research center in Paris and a star-studded list of former directors - Jaques Cousteau took the helm in 1957, for example.
The Musée Océanographique is a little overwhelming in the end, but certainly worth going to. It feels detached from the rest of the country, and self-consciously antiquated. The displays are interesting not so much because of what they reveal about the ocean, but because they are relics of another age of collecting. The aquarium is great too, if live fish are your thing.
The museum is open every day except the day of the Grand Prix, which I think is funny.
The hours are:
October to March: 10 to 6.
April 1 to September 30: 9.30 to 7
July and August: 9.30 to 7.30
Price is €14 for adults, €6.50 for children and students, free for those under four.
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