The country’s newest museum aptly opened on International Museum Day on May 18. The National Museum of Natural History is one of handsomest and modern museums in the country today. For many what has been more amazing about its opening are the long queues of people who want to get inside. On the opening day, some 3,757 people reportedly visited the museum. On May 20, a record-breaking 8,000 people trooped to the museum.
In a country with a dearth of appreciation of museums, and arts and culture in general, this was unprecedented. Never mind that this number is bolstered by the free entrance offered on opening week, and the fact that many seemed more interested in taking selfies and constantly breaking simple museum rules such as “no touching.” Paying for and respecting cultural artifacts can be tackled later on. For now we may rejoice in a new museum.
Experiencing the museum begins with Tree of Life, inspired by the shape of the double helix of the DNA, where the elevator brings the visitor to the fifth floor where one starts the journey of knowledge and enlightenment, laid out in 12 galleries.
The fourth to sixth floors, which house several galleries, the rooftop garden and function rooms, are still under construction and will open within the month.
Near the Tree of Life is a replica of the saltwater crocodile, Lolong, caught in the Agusan Marsh. At about 20 feet long, It was the largest crocodile in captivity. Its skeleton hang at the Ayala Reception Hall and its skin is being taxidermied. Also in the hall are the remains of the Rhinoceros philippinensis, dated 709,000 years ago, hunted by what is now considered the earliest hominids to settle in the island. These were excavated in Rizal, Kalinga.
At Gallery IX: Mangroves, Beaches and Intertidal Zones, there is a replica of a mangrove forest with taxidermied crabs. Gallery X: The Marine Realm has replicas of a submarine, a whale shark and other large marine creatures.
The National Museum of Natural History completes the National Museum of the Philippines complex at the Rizal Park, converting the Department of Tourism building, which was formerly the Agriculture and Commerce building, into the country’s first and biggest museum dedicated to Philippine flora, fauna and natural resources.
“This project was initiated in 1998, with the approval by President Fidel V. Ramos of the National Museum Act,” said Ramon R. del Rosario, Jr., chairman of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum, in a message for the opening. “This landmark law designated three historical government buildings in Rizal Park as the home of the National Museum: the Legislative Building on Padre Burgos Avenue, and the twin buildings that originally housed the Department of Agriculture and Commerce (later Tourism) and the Department of Finance in the eastern area in Rizal Park known as the Agrifina Circle.”
The Finance Building is now the National Museum of Anthropology, while the Legislative Building is now the National Museum of Fine Arts, opened in 2001.
“Then-President Benigno Aquino III in 2012 agreed to support the conversion of the Tourism building into the National Museum Natural History as one of his administration’s major projects under the Department of Education. In line with this, the Department of Tourism vacated and turned over the building in 2013 and the implementation of the project finally started in 2014,” Del Rosario further related. “The government undertook the conversion of the Tourism building, through extensive retrofitting and renovation, into a building suited to house the Natural History Museum and its priceless geological, botanical and zoological collections.”
The private sector also participated in the transformation. In particular, a private foundation donated the museum’s most spectacular structure, the Tree of Life, which includes a dome of glass and aluminum, in what was the courtyard, and a scenic elevator
The redesign on the neoclassical structure was done by Dominic Galicia Architects and Periquet Galicia, Inc.
Many exhibits are interactive, and all items are informative and endlessly fascinating if one takes time to linger and contemplate. The architectural details of the building itself are to marvel at. When the remaining portions are finally open, the museum is sure to impress more.
“The National Museum of Natural History now stands as a remarkable example of what can be achieved through persistence and a spirit of cooperation and generosity, in line with an established vision that can be appreciated by every Filipino,” Del Rosario said.