New Delhi, India
July 14, 2009
The girl at the reception counter spoke fluent English and was a sweet, friendly person who glanced at our Swiss pass and gave us the happy news that it was valid in the museum. She wished us a good visit, and so we went off downstairs one level to begin our explorations.
The first gallery we came to, in the basement, was the Views of Lausanne section, a series of paintings by artists famous and obscure. Some of these depictions are exceptionally good. For example, there’s a scene of Lausanne in winter, the cathedral’s spire towering above snowy roofs while two figures in the foreground collect firewood. Another painting, which I immediately categorised as hot favourite, was an Impressionist view of Ouchy, by Edouard Hosch: sunset-tinted clouds, the lake in the background, a stone hut and two women at work. There are lots of other paintings too, of monuments in Lausanne (the cathedral is particularly prominent); of the cityscape; and of people—lovers, workers, etc—going about in Lausanne.
Also in the basement is the archaeological section, which includes artefacts dug up in Lausanne: there are the usual arrowheads, shards of pottery, ornaments and so on, but also a Neolithic grave, complete with some of the bones of a female skeleton.
Ascending from the basement, we found ourselves being hijacked by our friend the receptionist, who pointed out the model room and told us that she’d start the sound-and-light show, in English, for us. This was a little ambiguous but we sat down dutifully in the small room. The wall on our left had a large painting of Lausanne; this, we later discovered, was more a map than a mere painting. It dates back to 1638 and was created by a certain David Buttet. In front of us, encased in a very large glass case, was a three-dimensional model of Lausanne, based on Buttet’s map. The room was very dimly lit to begin with, so we could see very little of the model: lots of sloping roofs, the cathedral, some more church spires. Huh?
And then the sound-and-light show started, approximately 15 minutes of an absorbing narration that explained the origins of Lausanne, its development, how people lived and worked here in earlier centuries, and how the different quarters of Lausanne grew. Accompanied by the sound and light effects, this was an enjoyable snapshot of the city’s history.
Lausanne’s history, of course, is what the museum’s all about, and the galleries above the ground floor allow visitors a glimpse of medieval and even modern Lausanne. The medieval section is much like what we later saw all across museums in Switzerland (actually, what we’ve also seen elsewhere in Europe too). There’s the usual panoply of weapons, armour, old paintings and statues, and even some rather unusual artefacts: a 12th century missal, for example.
One gallery is devoted to the cathedral, and another contains statues from across Lausanne. Among the latter is the Statue of Justice, a stone figure of a blindfolded woman. This originally stood in the Place du Palud but was pulled down and installed here for its preservation—its place in the square has been taken by a replica that’s brightly painted and gilded, with the sword and the scales that Justice holds, intact. The statue at the museum doesn’t have her hands any longer, so the tools of her trade are missing as well.
What I liked best of all was the gallery on 19th century and early 20th century Lausanne. This was full of delightfully quirky and quaint stuff: a carriage; advertisements and posters; old photographs, cameras and photographic equipment; dolls and toys; clothing; and—my favourite—a pacheesi board on which the pieces were all painted to depict 19th century European soldiers. The board even had a painting of a battle, with sabres flying as cavalry went into action. Fabulous!
The Musée Historique had originally been the residence of the bishops of Lausanne (which explains its proximity to the cathedral). Since most rooms have been converted into the museum’s galleries, we couldn’t see much of what this mansion would have been like when it housed a bishop. But there are sections where you can get a glimpse of a Lausanne bishop’s lifestyle (and it must have been pretty comfortable, to say the least). The kitchen, for instance, has been replicated with pots, pans, crockery—even fake garlic and a hen peeking out from under a counter. The Salle de Musique has old musical instruments, and we noticed carved and painted sections of the original building in places.
The museum is closed on Mondays. Entrance fees are CHF8 per person, unless you have a Swiss pass, in which case it’s free. Photography is allowed, but without a flash. A free guide, with brief explanations about each section, is available in various languages including English, although labels on individual exhibits are only in French.
Do remember to step out into the bishop’s garden—with gravel, lots of flowers, a bench under a shady tree and a panoramic view of Lausanne, it’s a lovely little nook which few people seem to visit.
From journal Exploring Lausanne