Oh Lousonna! – Romans in Lausanne

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Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Musée romain de Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne-Vidy, Switzerland
 I love going to Roman museums – as a Roman history buff, I’m always really excited to see what interesting new objects have been unearthed in different parts of their Empire.  Having already seen some pretty fine Roman objects in the Cantonal Museum of Archaeology and History, I was looking forward to visiting the Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy.

The Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy

The Roman settlement of Lousonna was actually situated in what now constitutes a suburb of Vidy in Lausanne.  It was founded in 15BC and some of the remains of the town are still visible (more on that below) though there’s not a huge amount left.  It was on an important trade route, helping to connect the northern frontiers to Italy.  Its location on Lake Geneva was also important; there was a Corporation of Boatmen who operated flat-bottomed boats to carry amphora filled with Roman goodies which then got transported north.
As with most of the Roman Empire, Lousonna suffered decline from the 3rd century and by the middle of the 4th century it was completely abandoned in favour of the settlement on the hill of modern Lausanne.  It was only in the 1930s that proper excavation work started and they found a house decorated with frescoes.  This site has become the base for the museum building.

Trop c’est Trop Exhibition

When we visited the museum, there was an exhibition on called Trop c’est Trop! which was looking at the theme of hubris.  We walk into a supermarket (called HUBRIS), set up with those metal, swing doors to enter, and shelves stacked with products.  While it had a few little Roman objects which illustrated themes of hubris from ancient myths, most of the space was dominated by, well, this…

Boxes and boxes.  Posters.  Some videos.  The theme of hubris was looked at from an entirely modern perspective – it was highly agenda driven, trying to warn the world of the impending disasters on our horizon caused by robots, consumerism, ecological destruction and arrogance.  Laudable.  Some of the points are naturally very valid.  But they felt misplaced in a museum about Romans.  And honestly, the level of the arguments felt teenaged.  Of course, the family who were in the exhibition with us seemed to be feeling it, and were watching the videos and reading the propaganda.  After we’d established the nature of the exhibition, we just dashed through, looking at the Roman objects.

The Main Gallery

The permanent part of the museum is up a set of stairs that goes over the remains of a Roman house.  It’s nice the way this excavation has been incorporated into the museum, but a shame that it wasn’t easier to see.

The first thing I noticed about the exhibits was the fact that they were very strikingly displayed on a ‘earthy’ surface, so they looked like they’d been recently excavated.  Because the lighting was also very good, this setting really enhanced the overall appearance of even the most mundane finds.

So In Summary

The museum was a very neat, nicely designed, sensibly thought-out space, with informative tags and thoughtful explanations, when relevant, of Roman culture.  It’s only small, so it’s sensible that they hold regular exhibitions to draw people in.  I enjoyed it – but I am a Roman history fan, so I would.  There are interesting snippets of Roman life which I’ve not seen elsewhere.  I’m not sure that the place has lots to offer those who aren’t so interested in the period, particularly since it’s quite far out of Lausanne proper, and therefore requires more effort to get to than it may be worth for the casual visitor.

Further Information

It was difficult finding out about this museum, and I’m not sure why, because it’s got some good stuff.  It’s not helped by having one of these shared council websites, which only give basic and minimal information:  www.lausanne.ch

In the museum itself, all the information is in French, but the lady on reception gave us a little booklet which had everything in English.

On our way to the museum, we went through the archaeological site of Lousonna.  There’s not much to it, but it’s pleasant to browse, especially if you have a bit of knowledge of how Roman towns work.

How To Get There

I had read that it would take about twenty minutes to walk from the Lausanne-Ouchy station.  This was a lie.  I don’t know exactly how long it took, because I didn’t look at my watch at the start of the journey, but I think it took almost an hour.  We did walk slowly to start off with, enjoying the view over Lake Geneva, the fresh air… and we tried to ignore the traffic whizzing by us.  Then we started walking past buildings.  More cars.  Extremely posh ones…

…then we went past the Philip Morris headquarters!  What a highlight!   And I don’t smoke!

The walk was spectacularly unattractive, because most of the time you couldn’t see the lake.  Plus we followed signs at one point, which made us go through a great big carpark for no beneficial reason.  I don’t think we got to our destination any quicker.

Unless you enjoy walking along busy roads, I recommend you get the bus.  It’s quicker, and it’s best to get some form of transport.  Check out the Lausanne transport site – it’s in English: www.t-l.ch

For general transport links from other places in Switzerland, the www.sbb.ch is as useful as ever.


  • marksaltveit 10th February 2019 at 9:01 pm

    Thanks for sharing! Wonderful stuff. Do you remember any further details about that palindrome? EG when it might have been carved? it’s literally the oldest known palindrome in the world (2nd century BCE).

    • chickpea 13th February 2019 at 6:19 pm

      Hi, thanks so much for your comment! Unfortunately I couldn’t remember where I read about the palindrome graffiti before, but during my searches today I found an article about the villa at Contigny, which is where it was discovered. In this the authors say that the graffiti dates from 60-80/90 AD:

      It hadn’t occurred to me just how amazing the palindrome is, so thank you for bringing it to my attention. I’m going to add a few more lines to my blog post to explain it in a little more detail. Thanks a lot!


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