You might be wondering why, given my Beastly Big Brother’s animal obsession, my family have been in Moscow for over five years now and not visited the Timiryazev Biological Museum. Especially because it is housed in a particularly nice old building.
Well, we were a bit shocked by this too. Which is why it was one of the first places we went to when we started going out again after the great year of lockdown.
To be fair, we had tried to go once before. But there was a queue round the block because of some mushroom conference. Papa does not do queuing, so we abandoned our visit.
And then we put it off some more because, whisper it, I went there on a school visit. Mama thought that perhaps it is possible to have too much of a good thing, and at the time she didn’t want to overdo it.
But right now we will agree to go and watch paint dry as long as it involves doing it somewhere other than our own house. Off we went, then, with very few expectations, but high high excitement.
The Timiryazev Biological Museum started off strongly, as far as we kids were concerned, when the obligatory trip to the toilet revealed that the walls were covered with poo factiods. In fact Mama was pretty delighted by this too, given how much of the time she normally spends arguing about whether we want to go for a preventative widdle. No need to worry about this at this museum! The problem will be more in removing your children from the cubicles as they bound around happily chasing down another interesting tidbit.
Not to mention ogling the display of actual poo in the vicinity of the washbasins.
Very wisely the museum then kicks of the real tour with a couple of rooms of stuffed animals. No one is ever bored of stuffed animals. Particularly not my Beastly Big Brother, who will work the room going, appreciatively, oh good! They’ve got a [insert name of obscure animal Mama is not convinced is not made up here].
There was also an opportunity for us to argue about what a Russian-named bird might be called in English, which is rapidly becoming our favourite thing. Mama and my Beastly Big Brother spent a whole hour disagreeing about the translation of the word robin recently. Because, while robins exist in Russia, the bird that actually seems to be considered the generic snow flutterer is a sort of chaffinch. Which is not, my Beastly Big Brother says, indignantly, even much of a winter bird! Mama had not noticed the confusion until now (red is involved with both of them), but it does explain why certain Christmas cards and snow scenes always seemed a bit off to her.
At this point the Timiryazev Biological Museum recalled that biology is not just about animals and we moved on to mushrooms. Two large rooms of them. Mama feels that the queues may not have been a one off and that museum may, in fact, be a mycologists’ paradise. Which if you know anything about Russians and their penchant for bounding into the woods and picking a wide range of apparently edible fungi every autumn is probably not surprising. Although Mama always considers this a test of any foreigner’s trust in their Russian partner. Still. She’s not dead yet, despite Papa being in every other way a conformed urbanite.
Anyway. We duly contemplated what mushrooms have done for civilization, and how they have hindered it; mushroom names and the reasons for them; edible mushrooms that are easily mistaken for poisonous ones; and why hedgehogs do not really carry mushrooms around on the backs.
Bit of a harsh reality check that last one I feel, given how generations of Russian and Soviet cartoon lovers have been brought up on this idea.
And then we moved on to the room with the two headed dog.
Now I do not know what you expect when you go to a museum that is billed as both child-friendly and slightly stuffy in its approach to museuming (poo infested toilets notwithstanding). The actual dog which had had another dog’s head sewn into its neck to test something something nerves, and which lived for two days subsequently and was then stuffed and added to a Timiryazev Biological Museum display case at a nine-year-old’s eye height was not one of them.
Along with original photos, and another stuffed dog which lived some two years after someone grafted a liver inside its throat.
Mama took lots of photos and is including them here because she reasons if she had to see it, so do you.
If it makes you feel better, she also lectured us at length on medical and scientific ethics, introducing us to the idea that just because you can do something it does not always mean you should.
At which point she may have remembered about modern day animal testing. So we moved on.
Quite what was in the next few rooms I am not sure any of us were really concentrating on. Except possibly the puzzle of how in the anthropological study of various peoples from around the world, the second most important group, Anglo-Saxons, seem to have been left off entirely. Much to our half-English disapproval.
There was also a room dedicated to Darwin and man’s connection to apes, as well as quite a lot about evolution in general. The evolution of horses, carrots, all the important things.
Kliment Timiryazev was a big deal in botanical circles not only has this museum, but a metro station, a bit of the moon and an agricultural college named after him, and was a big fan of Darwinism. And greenhouses, apparently. Quite right too.
And then somehow we were surrounded by prehistory, at which point my Beastly Big Brother perked up and asked us to guess which of these animals is responsible for the extinction of horses in North America.
Go on, guess.
And apparently it too died out because it was eaten by big cats from South America.
On which improving note we will leave you with another image of the very attractive building.
This has always been a museum, although the original owner actually built them to hold his large, eclectic antiques collection. Much like the Horniman and the Soanes Museums in London, although with less actual living alongside the knick-knacks required from the wife. Nice to see that the 19th century transcends borders. Interestingly, we cant even blame the Revolution (for once) for its closure – the owner bequeathed his bits and bobs to the Historical Museum, and the buildings had been empty of interesting guns, swords, fabrics, carpets, paintings, drawings, engravings, crockery, and church paraphernalia for sometime until the 1930s when the animals and plants moved in.
Good then, that there are plans for a full renovation in the works. Yes, even the underground passageway!
The Timiryazev Biological Museum is not perhaps, the museum that should be first on your list if you are thinking about going to a life science themed experience in Moscow. That’s the Darwin Museum. It may not even be the second or third, given that there is a dedicated stuffed animal space right next to the Kremlin, and a modern, interactive experience all about the human body lurking about too. But it did wile away a happy couple of hours for us, and provided Mama with a surprise too. So it should, nevertheless, the on the list somewhere.
The Timiryazev Biological Museum’s website.
This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about ethics.
Address: 15 Malaya Gruzinskaya Ulitsa, Moscow, 123242
Admission: Adults 280 roubles, kids over 7 180 roubles, kids under 7 free
Opening: 10 am – 6pm every day, except Thursday (opens at 12) and Sunday (opens at 11) and Monday (closed)
Getting there: Barrikadnaya (purple line) or Krasnopesnenskaya (brown circle line). Cross the road and turn right away from the Zoo, and the street is quite soon up the road on the right.