Oh Lousonna! – Romans in Lausanne

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.
Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

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…
The strangely wasteful teenage exhibition, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

The strangely wasteful teenage exhibition, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

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.

Fragment showing Jupiter, Roman era, from Lausanne, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Fragment showing Jupiter, Roman era, from Lausanne, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Bronze statuette of Icarus, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Bronze statuette of Icarus, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Medallion showing the fall of Icarus, bronze and silver, Roman era, from Lausanne, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Medallion showing the fall of Icarus, bronze and silver, Roman era, from Lausanne, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Bronze statuette of Aesclepius, Roman era, from Augusta Raurica, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Bronze statuette of Aesclepius, Roman era, from Augusta Raurica, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Bronze mirror, Roman era, from Lausanne, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Bronze mirror, Roman era, from Lausanne, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

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.

Fragments of Roman fresco, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  View from the staircase.

Fragments of Roman fresco,  This was very difficult to see, as the staircase goes above it.

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.

View of the length of the gallery, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

View of the length of the gallery, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Inscription, early 3rd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  "To the divinities of the emperors, from the Leman boatmen, who have their seat in Lousonna".

Inscription, early 3rd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  “To the divinities of the emperors, from the Leman boatmen, who have their seat in Lousonna”.

Amphoras of the Lousonna boatmen, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Amphoras of the Lousonna boatmen, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Mould of Roma, 2nd/early 3rd century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Used to manufacture medallions.

Mould of Roma, 2nd/early 3rd century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Used to manufacture medallions.

Over-done plates, 2nd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  This is what happens when they're cooked at too high a temperature!

Over-done plates, 2nd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  This is what happens when they’re cooked at too high a temperature!

Very over-done plates, end of 1st century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  The plates have practically melted and then blended with the internal surface of the furnace. They're marked with the name L Atticus Jucundus.

Very over-done plates, end of 1st century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  The plates have practically melted and then blended with the internal surface of the furnace. They’re marked with the name L Atticus Jucundus.

Over-done plates, end of 1st century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Marked with the name Jucundus, so he's probably the maker of the above disaster too.

Over-done plates, end of 1st century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Marked with the name Jucundus, so he’s probably the maker of the above disaster too.

Building tools and masonry, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Building tools and masonry, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Fragments of Roman glass, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Fragments of Roman glass, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Calculator, Roman era, stone and glass, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  It's almost impossible to distinguish a calculi from a gaming piece, but they were used for doing sums.

Calculator, Roman era, stone and glass, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  It’s almost impossible to distinguish a calculi from a gaming piece, but they were used for doing sums.

Inscription dedicated to Neptune, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Inscription dedicated to Neptune, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Inscription dedicated to Ceres, and the Emperors, first half of the 1st century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Inscription dedicated to Ceres, and the Emperors, first half of the 1st century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Fragments of fresco, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Fragments of fresco, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

A palindrome in Greek on fresco fragment, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

A palindrome in Greek on fresco fragment, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Seal boxes, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  These were used to fully secure letters. The mail was wrapped with a ribbon, the ends of which were knotted in a small box, which was then filled with wax.

Seal boxes, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  These were used to fully secure letters. The mail was wrapped with a ribbon, the ends of which were knotted in a small box, which was then filled with wax.

Fragment of a bronze arm, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Fragment of a bronze arm, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Melted debris from a house, 2nd/3rd centuries, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Found in a house in Lousonna, destroyed by a fire which melted together the walls, the ground and some goblets.

Melted debris from a house, 2nd/3rd centuries, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Found in a house in Lousonna, destroyed by a fire which melted together the walls, the ground and some goblets.

Cheese moulds, end of 2nd/begining 3rd century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Pliny the Elder mentioned the cheese of the Alps region as being good!

Cheese moulds, end of 2nd/begining 3rd century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Pliny the Elder mentioned the cheese of the Alps region as being good!

Paries perpetu[u]s communis est "This wall, along all its length, is a party wall", 1st/2nd centuries, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Paries perpetu[u]s communis est “This wall, along all its length, is a party wall”, 1st/2nd centuries, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Mortar, 2nd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  The internal abrasive facing (quartz, basalt etc) allowed for grinding and crushing ingredients.

Mortar, 2nd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  The internal abrasive facing (quartz, basalt etc) allowed for grinding and crushing ingredients.

Various fibulas, 1st-3rd centuries, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Various fibulas, 1st-3rd centuries, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Hair pins, second half of 1st century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Hair pins, second half of 1st century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Perfume bottles and make up applicators, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Perfume bottles and make up applicators, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Stamp for eye medication belonging to Quintus Postumius Hermes, end of 2nd century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland. This side is for a cream with the ingredient pelaginum, for clear vision. 

Stamp for eye medication belonging to Quintus Postumius Hermes, end of 2nd century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland. This side is for a cream with the ingredient pelaginum, for clear vision.

Stamp for eye medication belonging to Quintus Postumius Hermes, end of 2nd century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland. The side is for a cream with the ingredient choloron, to cure eye irritation.

Stamp for eye medication belonging to Quintus Postumius Hermes, end of 2nd century, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland. The side is for a cream with the ingredient choloron, to cure eye irritation.

Capital of column, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Typically Gallo-Roman in style, possibly of a local water deity.

Capital of column, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Typically Gallo-Roman in style, possibly of a local water deity.

Bronze Bull Sacrifice, 2nd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Bronze Bull Sacrifice, 2nd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Detail of Bull Sacrifice, 2nd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Detail of Bull Sacrifice, 2nd century AD, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Fragments of relief showing Anubis, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Shows that the cult of Isis made it to Lousonna.

Fragments of relief showing Anubis, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  Shows that the cult of Isis made it to Lousonna.

Bronze sistrum, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland 

Bronze sistrum, Roman era, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Limestone sarcophagus from the Middle Ages, using recycled Roman architectural slabs, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Limestone sarcophagus from the Middle Ages, using recycled Roman architectural slabs, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland

Bowl from north Italy, 1st century BC-1st century AD, by the potter, Xanthus, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  The laughing, drinking skeleton is creepy, because it's very well done - I love the curving of the spine.

Bowl from north Italy, 1st century BC-1st century AD, by the potter, Xanthus, Roman Museum of Lausanne-Vidy, Lausanne, Switzerland.  The laughing, drinking skeleton is creepy, because it’s very well done – I love the curving of the spine.

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.

Lousonna Archaeological Site, Lausanne-Vidy, Switzerland

Lousonna Archaeological Site, Lausanne-Vidy, Switzerland

Lousonna Archaeological Site, Lausanne-Vidy, Switzerland

Lousonna Archaeological Site, Lausanne-Vidy, Switzerland

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Lousonna Archaeological Site, Lausanne-Vidy, Switzerland

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.

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