If you are looking for something completely different to visit during your French language immersion stay in Montpellier and you are not squeamish, the Musée d’Anatomie in Montpellier (2, rue de l’Ecole de Médecine) should be at the top of your list. This museum is located in the oldest medical facility in France. It contains dissected anatomical organs, rare specimens, and a variety of items that can only be described as monstrosities.
The warning by the Office of Tourism to all who are faint of heart and the interdiction to pregnant women and anyone under the age of 12 may be the most successful inadvertent marketing campaign for this little shop of horrors. This museum contains a vast collection of wax models, real body parts, sculptures, bottled fetuses, paintings and skeletal remains that have been collected, used and studied in the School of Medicine of Montpellier that has been operating since 1181 — Europe’s oldest continuous medical school.
The history of medicine in Montpellier, France
Only ten miles to the Mediterranean Sea by the Lez river, Montpellier became established around 985 AD and quickly became an important village of merchants importing spices from the Eastern Mediterranean countries. With the imports came the medical uses of their products from the knowledge of Arabic medicine. By the year 1000 AD, graduates of Salerno were teaching merchants and students in Montpellier, although much of the learning was passed on by Arab and Jewish trading partners.
Important medical translations from the Persian teacher, Avicenna, and the Jewish rabbi, Maimonides, were made by a Jewish physician, Moses ibn Tibbon in the mid 1200s. In 1180, the lord of the city, Guilhem VIII, proclaimed that anyone, no matter their religion or roots, could teach medicine in Montpellier. In 1220 the professors of medicine formed a Univeratas Medicorum and in 1220 Pope Nicholas IV gave the university his blessing. François Rabelais, the French renaissance physician, writer, and humanist, is the school’s most famous student. Nostradamus was a student as well, but was expelled in short time. His expulsion papers are preserved in the faculty library in Montpellier, France.
Mix a bit of the weird with your language stay in Montpellier
This tour will definitely add some zing to your language stay in Montpellier!! If one can look past the reality of the tragic remains, there is an almost surreal beauty to the museum. The wax sculptures and classically framed paintings of deformities and diseases would be at home in any gallery. Much of the collection of over 8,000 pieces, which was classified as an historical monument in 2004, consists of samples and studies of anatomy by professors and medical students in the 19th and 20th centuries.
There are wax models of diseases and ailments that are no longer seen, mummified body parts with all sorts of freakish ailments, preserved nervous systems and skeletons with amazing detail, lungs, hearts, feet, hands, skulls, leading up to the furthermost wall lined with glass fronted shelves full of ancient jars filled with all types of things that can go terribly wrong in the formation of a human being.
Once a year in September for the Journée du Patrimoine, many of the public buildings and museums are open to the public for free by the French government. Before the Musée d’Anatomie was reopened to the public on a more continuous basis, more than 4,000 people waited over two hours on the Journée du Patrimoine to gawk at the freak show. Now you must endure a coma inducing one hour tour of the lecture halls and offices of the medical school to reach this collection of body bits and pieces. It was so incredibly long that I thought we had made a mistake and were not going to get to visit the only interesting part of the whole tour. The price you must pay to see the freak show is steep, but well worth the wait!!
An additional bonus of the tour is that the Office of Tourism only offers it in French – a great way to learn French outside your French immersion course. The tour guides are easy enough to follow and the visual prompts help where your vocabulary may fail. Even if you are just beginning to learn French, this tour will still be well worth your time. The architecture of the building and the amazing displays will make for an afternoon you will long remember. Besides, what a great and unusual way to add color to your French Immersion Language course! Think of the great new vocabulary you will learn and what interesting stories you will have to tell in class or to your French host family.
Visitors must sign up at the Tourist Office
or by phone at +33 (0)4 67 60 19 27.
Admission costs €13.
The tour lasts 2 hours in total, including around 20 minutes in the Musée d’Anatomie. The number of participants is limited to 20.
No admission to children under 12, pregnant women and people allergic to formalin.
The guided tours are organized from the Tourist Office on Place de la Comédie.
Tickets must be collected 24 hours in advance at the latest.