The Curious Morges Museum

Morges Castle and its Museums, Château de Morges & ses Musées, Morges, Switzerland

Morges Museum is positioned in probably one of the prettiest locations for a museum you can get.  Housed in a late 13th century fortress, there are actually five museums in the one building – which is why its official name is Morges Castle and its Museums.  We are going to dispense with the formalities and refer to it as Morges Museum.

Though called a castle, the building was originally a Savoyard fortress, established to help the House of Savoy keep control over the region of Vaud.  Built in 1286 by Louis of Savoy, it is a typical square fortress type, and was used by the Dukes on their visits to the area.  In 1536, the Bernese conquered Vaud and Morges reluctantly fell into their control.  The Bernese bailiffs took residence in the castle and from 1798 it housed the district court.  This didn’t last long, as in 1803 the building became the cantonal arsenal and a prison.  I don’t think I would ever have thought it was a good idea to keep weapons and criminals in the same building, but there we are.

The castle’s history made it an ideal place to create a military museum and in 1925 the building transformed into a venue to celebrate Vaud’s army, with displays of weapons, armour, banners, documents etc..  The place has grown since then, and now makes for a curious place to potter around.

Ignace Paderewski Museum

Since 2016 the Castle has housed the so-called Ignace Paderewski Museum, though it’s actually more of a one-room exhibition.  Dedicated to the famous Polish pianist and statesman, the room tells the story of Paderewski from musician to politician, trying to help the fate of the Polish nation from the shores of Lake Geneva.

The room itself is set up nicely, with a few places to sit and listen to Paderewski’s music on earphones.  Informative panels explain why he was such an important cultural figure of his era, and as someone who only knew him from a film with Eric Portman (Moonlight Sonata, 1939 – very bad), I came away feeling like I could appreciate his work and understand how he became – and remains – so influential.

The most interesting exhibit for me, though, was related to his wife, Helena.  During the First World War, she came across some dolls by a fellow Pole, Stefania Łazarska, who worked in Paris.  Helena Paderewski saw these as a useful propaganda tool, and commissioned Łazarska to design further dolls which could be sold off for the charity supporting her recently set up Polish White Cross.  Usually dressed in Polish national garb, these dolls became known as “Madame Paderewski Dolls’ and apparently raised over $25,000 for the charity.

The doll on display was beautifully made and if you’re thinking, like me, of looking out for one on eBay, you’ll be lucky to find one.  And even if you do, you’ll be set back quite a few grand.

The Swiss Historic Figurine Museum

The next rooms that you’re led to are filled with little dioramas.  They show various battles through the ages, and are strangely fascinating.  I can’t say I loved them, and I didn’t exactly crawl along looking at every single one, but once in a while a scene caught my eye and I gave it more attention.

The collection was put together by Raoul Gérard in the early 20th century, with the little figures made from tin, lead and antimony.  From a distance the scenes are quite impressive, with carefully considered settings created to tell their stories.

But really it’s the level of detail that is impressive.  For example, in the picture below, each of the guys carrying the Pharaoh is slightly different, which makes them feel more dynamic.  If you look closely, there’s also some humour hidden amongst the figures, and if you are interested in the history of battles, I’m sure some scenes can be quite vivid.  It’s certainly an admirable life’s-work, though probably with limited appeal.

 

The Military Museum

350 years of military history are addressed in the next section of the castle.  It focuses on men from the Lake Geneva Region who went into Foreign Service, particularly into Napoleon’s army, although Swiss mercenaries fought for practically everyone in Europe.

The tags are all in French and therefore not as accessible as those in many other museums in Switzerland.  Coupled with the fact that it is a more specialist type of museum, this probably lessens its appeal for most.  However, there are some great old uniforms, and the odd curiosity which makes for a more engaging visit.

Please excuse the lack of information for most of the uniforms – I didn’t photograph the tags so I have no idea what most of them are.

The story continues upstairs.  Now, there is the added interest of looking at the building’s structure.

The Police Museum

This gallery opened in 2006, and tells the story of the Lake Geneva police corps.  When it was founded in 1803, the force comprised 100 foot policemen, mainly locals who had fought in Napoleon’s army.

I have to be honest, this section didn’t interest me, but I’m sure it’s got its audience.  It’s very nicely presented and it just continues along from the Military Museum galleries, so you can walk through at your own pace.

The Artillery Museum

This section of the museum looks at the history of cannons.  There are apparently 40 cannons along with their projectiles.  We didn’t go down the stairs of the courtyard to see it.  Still, I’m sure it’s magnificent for those with an interest in this aspect of warfare.

So in Summary

While this isn’t one of the ‘must-visit’ museums of the region, it is worth visiting if you are in the area or have a particular interest in military history.  They also have regular exhibitions – which is why we visited – so if you can, try and plan it to see one of them.

Further Information

The chateau has its own website, which is quite basic but has all the necessary information for opening times/price/exhibitions etc..  It is supposedly available in French and English but whenever I’ve been on, it’s only been in French.  Again, all the information you need is pretty straightforward so it’s not a problem:  www.chateau-morges.ch

There is a charge to enter the museum, which is increased when there is an exhibition.

We visited to see the Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy exhibition in September 2017.

How to Get There

Situated by the harbour in Morges, the Castle is an easy walk from the train station.  For information on trains, www.sbb.ch is your guide.  For local transport, there is a site that’s only in French, but straight-forward to navigate: www.mbc.ch

 

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