New Delhi, India
July 14, 2009
The Palais du Rumine is named for Gabriel de Rumine (1841-71), a Russian aristocrat who lived in Lausanne for a while and bequeathed his estate to the city, which used the funds to build this palace. The Florentine-style (I’d never have known it was that; that’s quoted from the Lausanne guide map) palace was officially inaugurated in November 1906, though work continued for a further three years. It’s an ornate building, even on the outside, with large carved medallions, semi-circular arches, pediments and fussy columns and striking greenish statues of winged lions and whatnot. Quite picturesque, especially as there are fountains and a bed of tightly-packed flowers—pale yellow and purple—in the large square in front of the palace. It is, unsurprisingly, a popular place to sit around and watch the world go by, or even just to rest a bit after tramping about the museums.
The Palais du Rumine is home to several museums, spread across different floors. At first glance, these may appear like merely different galleries of a single museum, but make no mistake: they are different museums, each with its own entrance fee. These range between CHF6 to 8 per person (excluding special rates for children and groups), but if you’ve got a Swiss pass, there’s no need to worry: it’s valid in all the museums, though a couple of them may issue you a `fake ticket’ as part of their paperwork. On to our experiences of the museums, now.
Musée de Zoologie: The first museum we visited was the museum of zoology. The girl at the counter was friendly, and handed us a free guide. A look at the guide—which contains a brief gist of the museum’s history, as well as a couple of sentences about each gallery, including its star exhibits—and we knew that this was one place that appeared to cater almost exclusively to a pre-teen audience. The illustrations on the guide looked like they were out of a comic strip, and as we progressed through the museum, we saw descriptions, astounding facts and interesting snippets of information about the animal world alongside the exhibits—all of them presented in a way that would appeal to children.
The museum itself is almost exactly a hundred years old: it opened in September 1909, although a number of the exhibits had been acquired as far back as 1818. The metallic display cabinets are from 1909, and there’s literally dozens of them in the Great Gallery, neatly lined up and filled with a vast array of stuffed birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and whatnot, each meticulously labelled with its common name, Latin name, and region of habitation. We were admiring the birds (which are especially colourful) when a troop of school children—chattering and very loud, with a teacher who couldn’t seem to control them at all burst in. We moved on, trying to keep ahead of them, but were overtaken at the end of the museum, where there’s a display of large marine life, including a swordfish, a massive turtle, and a 5.89 mt long great white shark—the largest such preserved shark in the world. According to our museum pamphlet, only the fins, flippers and teeth are real; the rest is a plaster cast.
In another gallery, we came across displays of insects, crustaceans, and molluscs. One section of this gallery, known as the Comparative Anatomy Room, houses animals preserved in formaldehyde: foetuses (including human) and so on. Squeamish ol’ me came out of there pronto, but other than that particular gallery, this is an interesting museum, and (as evidenced by the hordes of children), definitely a must-do if you’ve got kids in tow.
Musée Cantonal de Geologie: After a brief rest at an indoor fountain featuring a metal statue of a huge mythical fish (the Palais du Rumine is dotted with interesting statues, carving and mosaics), we moved on to the Museum of Geology, which consists of two separate sections: the Hall of Palaeontology, and the Hall of Mineralogy & Geology. Both were established in 1818, though of course set up here at the Palais du Rumine only in 1909.
We began with the Hall of Palaeontology, officially known as the Salle Philippe de la Harpe, after the surgeon and amateur palaeontologist who was director of the museum between 1858 and 1864. De la Harpe, according to the English-language pamphlet we were given at the entrance. "built up a world renowned collection of nummulites (unicellular organisms with a shell), which totalled more than 13,000 specimens when he died in 1882.". Wow. That was one dedicated palaeontologist.
The Hall of Palaeontology contains delights such as the only complete dinosaur skeleton to be found in Switzerland; a mammoth skeleton unearthed in Jura in 1959; and dozens of fossils, including ammonites, an archaeopteryx, and fossil fish. The pamphlet for this hall is especially good: it highlights the main exhibits, and provides highly interesting information about them—for instance, that 23 million years ago, Lausanne was tropical and looked rather like the Ganges Delta does today. With the help of the guide, we did a quick circuit of the hall (it was crowded with school children), checking out the amber, the Tyrannosaurus Rex skull, etc, before moving on to the next hall.
The Hall of Mineralogy and Geology is officially called the Salle E Renevier, after Eugène Renevier, director of the museum from 1864 to 1906. This one’s the sort of museum that would appeal to a little girl (well, I’m distantly related to a Barbie-loving little girl who would have adored it!): all pretty crystals, and in huge quantities. The dark hall is lined with display cases carefully lit to highlight the beauty of the vast collection of gemstones, minerals and crystals here: there are foot-high sections of mauve-purple amethyst, fist-sized chunks of turquoise and jade, pieces of opalescent (what else?!) opal, haematite, lapis-lazuli, sulphur and much more, all glowing and shimmering and looking straight out of a fantasy film. Interesting, of course, but gorgeous too, and both Tarun and I were totally bedazzled. Among the most intriguing exhibits is a 120kg chunk of meteorite which landed in Namibia.
Musée de Beaux Arts: We’d been looking forward to our tour of the museum of fine arts, since we’re both very keen on painting and sculpture. The Musée de Beaux Arts, however, was not just a damp squib, but sodden to the core. All we could see was a single gallery hosting an exhibition by a Belgian artist (the work was so unappealing, I’ve even forgotten the artist’s name—and never noted it down). Yes, I suppose to some the paintings were profound and full of meaning, but to us, at least, they didn’t make any sense. They didn’t even look nice, so after trudging along for a few minutes and trying to pretend we were interested, we bowed ourselves out and went on down to the next museum.
Musée d’ archaeologie et d’histoire: The museum of archaeology and history focuses on Lausanne and its canton—the Canton of Vaud—over the centuries. This is a well arranged museum, and if you follow the path correctly, you’ll actually be following a timeline, with artefacts arranged along the way. We wandered through, admiring the artefacts, which range from the Neolithic and the Bronze ages, through the Roman occupation of the area, past medieval times and to the 1800’s. The types of artefacts are very varied: we saw a Neolithic grave, old pottery and ornaments, some lovely 13th century tiles, and—in the section on the 19th century—the death mask and some of the personal effects of Napoleon himself. Our favourites, though, were probably the dioramas depicting life in Lausanne through the ages. These are tiny three-dimensional representations of a hunt in the woods, a fishermen’s stilt-propped hut beside Lac Leman (with the family going about its work), and so on: very cute and informative. Also interesting is the timeline at the end of the gallery, each important section of Lausanne’s history being represented by one artefact. The timeline actually extends into the 31st century, with the 21st century being represented by a badly battered, dirty and half-burnt CD. Cool!
Of the four museums, the first two—zoology and geology—are extremely popular with schoolchildren, so be prepared. I can’t vouch for it, but would assume that weekends might be a better time to visit if you quail at the thought of being surrounded by a chattering gaggle of children.
From journal Exploring Lausanne