July 24, 2021

An explosion damaged the ships where the collections of the National Museum of Natural Sciences are kept | Science

An explosion damaged the ships where the collections of the National Museum of Natural Sciences are kept | Science

The explosion in an industrial plant of hazardous waste in a polygon of the Madrid town of Arganda del Rey, on May 4, 2017, damaged the neighboring ships in which a good part of the funds of the National Museum of Natural Sciences are kept, according to explains the director of the entity, Santiago Merino, in an interview with this newspaper. The expansive wave burst several windows of the warehouses, located 750 meters in a straight line, and the fallen crystals in its interior broke empty showcases of previous exhibitions. The incident, which had not been made public until now, puts on the table the conditions in which the collections of the institution are located, a month after a fire reduced the National Museum of Brazil to ashes, with more than 20 million pieces, among them the oldest skeleton found in America.

The National Museum of Natural Sciences has about 10 million pieces, from the skeleton of a diplodocus to a selection of fallen meteorites in Spain, but only exhibits to the public 2% in the barely 4,000 square meters dedicated to exhibition at its headquarters in Madrid. 60% of the collections of birds and mammals, for example, are stored in the ships of Arganda del Rey, located at kilometer 24 of the old Madrid-Valencia highway. Among these hidden pieces are spectacular specimens naturalized a century ago by the brothers José María and Luis Benedito, authors of masterpieces of taxidermy.

The director of the National Museum of Natural Sciences, Santiago Merino.
The director of the National Museum of Natural Sciences, Santiago Merino.

The fire and the subsequent explosions registered in the company Requimsa injured 35 people, three of them seriously. No scientific collection was damaged. 11 years ago, a report published in The weekly country, entitled "The Museum of Horrors", caused the reform of the buildings of the institution in Arganda del Rey, by showing the conditions in which the pieces were stacked. "The skeleton of a 1768 boar comes out of the toilet and makes its way through hundreds of gigantic whale bones piled up in disarray in the toilets," journalist Javier Rico said.

The director of the museum believes that the monumental palace that occupies the Ministry of Agriculture would be "a perfect location"

"The situation has changed radically, perhaps partly thanks to that report. The conditions in Arganda are not the best, they are not ideal for having a warehouse of a national museum, without any doubt, but they have improved a lot, "says Merino, in charge since 2013." The most serious and pressing problem [de las colecciones del Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales] it is the lack of space and economic allocation, the great majority of the specimens being conserved in warehouses in Arganda del Rey that do not meet the environmental conditions suitable for safeguarding, so they continue to deteriorate despite having been restored. Currently, several of these specimens require recovery operations, "the restorer Rita Gil Macarrón warned in 2016 in a doctoral thesis dedicated to the conservation protocols of the museum's collections of birds and mammals.

Areas of the museum (green) and the School of Engineers (fuchsia) in the Palace of Arts and Industry of Madrid.
Areas of the museum (green) and the School of Engineers (fuchsia) in the Palace of Arts and Industry of Madrid.

The director of the institution urges the authorities to expand its headquarters with an annexed construction or move it to a larger building, such as the monumental palace currently occupied by the Ministry of Agriculture, located in the Atocha roundabout, next to the National Center Museum of Art Queen Sofia. "We would have together the National Museum of Natural Sciences, the Royal Observatory, the Botanical Garden and the National Museum of Anthropology. And in the museum axis of Madrid. For us it would be a perfect location, "says Merino. In its origins, in 1885, the palace of the Ministry of Agriculture was to be the Faculty of Sciences of Madrid.

The building of the Museo del Prado was designed in 1785 by order of King Carlos III to house the Royal Cabinet of Natural History, which was founded in 1771 and then shared headquarters with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in the central street Alcalá from Madrid. Finally, the space was devoted to painting and sculpture. In 1895, natural history collections were transported from Calle Alcalá to the basements of the current National Library. The majestic naturalized examples of the museum paraded through the streets of Madrid despite the complaints of scientific eminences such as Santiago Ramón y Cajal. In 1910, the institution was moved to its current headquarters in the Palace of Arts and Industry of Madrid, near the Nuevos Ministerios and far from the museum axis of the capital.

"It is quite regrettable that a museum that would be the pride of many European capitals is in a situation like this," laments Santiago Merino

The museum has shared its headquarters for more than a century with the School of Industrial Engineers, which occupies two thirds of the building and divides the exhibitions in two. "For us it is a disgrace, because if someone comes to visit the museum, they have to enter a wing, see the halls, go out into the street, surround the building and re-enter the other end. You can not visit the entire museum without going outside. It is quite regrettable that a museum as old and as old as this, which would be the pride of many major European capitals, is in a situation like this, cornered at two ends of a building and lack of space, "argues the director. The institution receives about 300,000 visitors a year, according to its figures.

"In winter, visitors have to queue in the street, because the entrance is very small and can hardly accommodate people. That is a disaster. We also do not have room for a cafeteria. The building has been too small for a long time, even to house collections, "Merino laments. "We are a museum visited by schoolchildren, with which we have a very important social role, to generate new vocations, to explain science to citizens. I believe that there are no excuses so that the museum does not have its own headquarters and in conditions ", ditch the director.

On June 25, a few weeks after arriving at the post, the Minister of Science, Pedro Duque, visited the National Museum of Natural Sciences. Santiago Merino showed him a model of the project to build an annex building for the collections. "The Ministry of Science has many things to attend to, but if you have a museum that could be one of the great European museums in the natural sciences, I think you should pay more attention to it. It should not be so difficult to find a solution, "says the director.


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