🏛️ THE 15 MUSEUMS OF THE ROMAN ERA IN FRENCH-SPEAKING SWITZERLAND

Foreword


The purpose of this article is to present the history of the Romans in French-speaking Switzerland as well as the places where one can learn about this rich civilization.

Romans


history


Rome was born in 753 BC. From its capital it will extend over the centuries on a huge territory around the Mediterranean Sea. It will take the name of the Roman Empire from 27 to 476 BC, the official date of the disappearance of its western part under pressure from the Germanic tribes.

At the beginning of the 5th century, the Roman Empire was divided into two empires, the Western Roman Empire, which disappeared in 476, and the Eastern Roman Empire. The Eastern Roman Empire with Constantinople (now Istanbul) as its capital manages to survive 1000 years longer than its Eastern neighbour before being defeated in 1453 by the Ottoman Empire, it is sometimes called the Byzantine Empire.

An animated gif showing the territorial evolution of the Roman Empire. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Un gif animé montrant l'évolution territoriale de l'Empire Romain.

A very beautiful video animation shows the territorial evolution of Rome.

Heritage


The heritage left by the Romans still has a deep impact on the lives of the European peoples today. Here are some examples:

  • Remains. Many buildings from the Roman period are still clearly visible today, such as the amphitheatre of Avenches or Martigny in French-speaking Switzerland.
  • Road network. Many of today’s roads are built on stone roads from Roman times.
  • Languages. The European languages of the Mediterranean basin are very strongly influenced by Latin such as French, Italian or Spanish and even English.
  • Code of law.
  • Calendar. It was created by Julius Caesar, it is the so-called Julian calendar (slightly modified in 1582 to become the Gregorian calendar). The names of the months and days come for the great majority from the Roman period through the use of emperors or gods.
  • Planets. They are named mainly from Roman deities such as Jupiter, Mercury or Venus. It should be noted that in Asian countries, the planets have other names.
  • The standard gauge for railway tracks is 1435 mm. This standard comes from the distance determined by the Romans for the circulation of their tanks.
  • etc …

The amphitheatre of Avenches with the tower built in the 11th century.
The amphitheatre of Avenches with the tower built in the 11th century.

Christianity


Christianity developed after the birth of Christ in year one in the Middle East region occupied by the Roman Empire at that time. Christianity, initially seen as a source of threat to power, was finally adopted and encouraged by the Roman Empire some 300 years later.

Christians were persecuted in the Roman Empire until the beginning of the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. At the beginning of the 5th century, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity a state religion.

An example of the persecution of Christians in French-speaking Switzerland is the massacre of the Theban Legion. During this event, Roman troops were sent to the Martigny region in the 3rd century to persecute Christians. A Roman commander named Mauritius (Maurice in french), originally from Thebes, now Louksor in southern Egypt, and of Coptic Christian faith, refused to obey orders and was massacred with his men by other Roman troops. However, this episode is controversial due to the lack of historical validation.

In memory of Mauritius, a church and then an abbey were founded on the site of the massacre. The city named Agaune by the Romans will then take the name of Saint-Maurice.

Excavations near the Abbey of Saint-Maurice on the first memorial sites dedicated to Mauritius.
Excavations near the Abbey of Saint-Maurice on the first memorial sites dedicated to Mauritius.

Romans in French-speaking Switzerland


Before the arrival of the Romans, the territory of Switzerland was occupied by Gallic populations called Helvetians. It was gradually colonized by the Roman Empire from a few decades BC by Julius Caesar.

The Roman Empire is divided into provinces. Most of the French-speaking part of Switzerland is part of the province of Upper Germany with the western part of German-speaking Switzerland. Graubünden is part of the Rhetia region and Valais is part of the Graiae Alps or Poeninae Alps, which include the Great St Bernard.

After several centuries of incursion by the Germanic peoples to the north and east of the Rhine, the beginning of the 5th century marked the withdrawal of Roman troops and the invasion of the territory by the Burgundians and Alamans from the territory of Switzerland.

The segmentation into provinces of the Roman Empire over time of its maximum extension.
The segmentation into provinces of the Roman Empire over time of its maximum extension.

A video about the region of the canton of Vaud during the Roman occupation.

Main Roman cities of French-speaking Switzerland


  • Forum Claudii Vallensium (Martigny)
  • Viviscus (Vevey)
  • Uromagus (Oron)
  • Minnodunum (Moudon)
  • Aventicum (Avenches)
  • Eburodunum (Yverdon)
  • Urba (Orbe)
  • Lousonna (Lausanne-Vidy)
  • Colonia Julia Equestris ou Noviodunum (Nyon)
  • Genava (Geneva)
  • Sedunum (Sion)
  • Pennelucos (Villeneuve)
  • Tarnaiae (Massongex)
  • Agaunum (Saint-Maurice)

The city of Avenches was by far the largest in Switzerland and has a maximum population of around 20,000, making it a major city at the time.

A map presented at the Roman Museum of Avenches showing the main roads and sites of the Roman Empire in Switzerland.
A map presented at the Roman Museum of Avenches showing the main roads and sites of the Roman Empire in Switzerland.

Museums in French-speaking Switzerland


Many museums include locally found objects from the Roman period. Some museums are completely dedicated to the Roman period and others to regional history by dedicating part of their museum to this period.

Legend:
⭐⭐⭐: major interest
⭐⭐: Average interest
⭐: Minor interest
🏛️🏛️: Museum entirely dedicated to the roman period
🏛️: Museum partially dedicated to the roman period
🆓/💲: Free/paid musuem
📍: location
🔗: Link to activity
🗿: Roman ruin in the surroundings

Roman museum of Avenches


The Roman Museum of Avenches presents in the tower above the amphitheatre, the most interesting objects recovered in the city over time. We can observe the reproduction of the famous golden bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The tower built in the Middle Ages housing the Roman Museum of Avenches.
The tower built in the Middle Ages housing the Roman Museum of Avenches.

A video on Aventicum.

Roman museum of Lausanne-Vidy


The Roman Museum of Vidy is located on the shores of the lake near the IOC headquarters. It exhibits the objects discovered in the Lausanne city of the Roman period and offers temporary exhibitions presenting a different perspective on this period. An archaeological walk on the other side of the highway reveals the foundations of Roman remains with observation posts that show the state of the buildings during the Roman period.

The building of the Roman Museum of Vidy.
The building of the Roman Museum of Vidy.

The archaeological walk with the foundations of the Roman buildings.
The archaeological walk with the foundations of the Roman buildings.

Roman museum of Nyon


Built in 1979 on the remains of a Roman basilica, the Roman Museum of Nyon exhibits objects found in the surrounding area. Temporary exhibitions provide a different perspective.

The entrance to the Roman Museum of Nyon.
The entrance to the Roman Museum of Nyon.

A video about the Roman Museum of Nyon.

Roman museum of Vallon


The Roman Museum of Vallon is built on the site of a rich old Roman villa. It mainly houses two large mosaics.

The building housing the Roman Museum of Vallon.
The building housing the Roman Museum of Vallon.

The mosaic known as the “hunting” mosaic around which one can turn with a raised course.
The mosaic known as the "hunting" mosaic around which one can turn with a raised course.

Gallo-Roman museum of Gianadda Fundation


The Gallo-Roman Museum of Martigny is located in the Gianadda Foundation within an ancient Roman temple. He exhibits objects discovered in the Valais with the famous bronze bull’s head at the head of the poster.

The Gianadda Foundation building created in memory of Pierre Gianadda who died in a plane crash.
The Gianadda Foundation building created in memory of Pierre Gianadda who died in a plane crash.

Roman mosaics of Orbe


Not yet visited by the Torpille team.

Geneva Museum of Art and History


  • ⭐⭐⭐
  • 🏛️: Level -2: Archaeology, “Rome” section. Level -1: Regional Archaeology, “Gallo-Roman Era” and “Lower-Empire” sections.
  • 📍: Geneva GE
  • 🆓
  • 🔗: Geneva museum of art and history

The Geneva Museum of Art and History has two sections dedicated to the Roman period:

  1. The regional archaeology in the first basement presents, like the other Roman museums in French-speaking Switzerland, objects discovered regionally;
  2. The “Rome” section of archaeology in the first basement, a unique case in French-speaking Switzerland, shows objects sometimes imposing from the Roman period brought back from elsewhere or offered to the museum by collectors.

The entrance to the Geneva Museum of Art and History near the old city.The entrance to the Geneva Museum of Art and History near the old city.

A video about the Geneva Museum of Art and History.

Latenium, park and archaeology museum


  • ⭐⭐
  • 🏛️: Sections 2 and 3: “Medieval Lights” and “A sept lieues d’Avenches”
  • 📍: Hauterive NE
  • 💲
  • 🔗: Latenium, park and archaeology museum
  • 🗿: Park in front of the Latenium

The Laténium is a museum on the shores of the lake north of the city of Neuchâtel. It exhibits objects found in the canton of Neuchâtel since the Neolithic period.

The Latenium museum with the reconstitution of old houses in the park.
The Latenium museum with the reconstitution of old houses in the park.

The inside of the Latenium.
The inside of the Latenium.

Cantonal Museum of Archaeology and History of Lausanne


The Cantonal Museum of Archaeology and History is one of the four museums of the Palais de Rumine in the centre of the city of Lausanne, under the cathedral. It displays archaeological objects found in the canton of Vaud.

The palace of Rumine and the Riponne Place.
The palace of Rumine and the Riponne Place.

The inside of the museum.
The inside of the museum. history museum rumine

Museum of Yverdon and its region


The Museum of Yverdon and its region is located within the castle of Yverdon built in the Middle Ages.
The Museum of Yverdon and its region is located within the castle of Yverdon built in the Middle Ages.

The inside of the museum.
The inside of the museum. yverdon castle

Archéologue and Roman House of Pully


  • 🏛️: Interactive space on the theme of the Roman period for children and a vestige of a mosaic.
  • 📍: Pully VD
  • 💲
  • 🔗: Archéolab and roman house

The Archaeolab is a space for children to discover the Roman period with regularly renewed experiences. The remains of a semi-circular mosaic are the most significant remains of the former rich Roman villa of Pully.

The Archaeolab building.
The Archaeolab building in pully

The remains of the mosaic of the Roman villa of Pully.
The remains of the mosaic of the Roman villa of Pully.

Abbey of Saint-Maurice


  • 🏛️: Abbey of Saint-Maurice. Archaeological site, Roman period burial site
  • 📍: Saint-Maurice VS
  • 💲
  • 🔗: Abbey of Saint-Maurice

The bell tower of the Abbey of Saint-Maurice.
The bell tower of the Abbey of Saint-Maurice.

The archaeological site shows burial sites from Roman times. Later on, primitive churches were built there.
The archaeological site shows burial sites from Roman times. Later on, primitive churches were built there.

Museum of Valais History


The Valais History Museum is located in the city of Sion within the walls of Valère. It presents in some rooms objects found locally and events that took place during the Roman period.

The basilica of Valère from the ramparts of the Tourbillon castle. The museum is located below the basilica.
The basilica of Valère from the ramparts of the Tourbillon castle.

Objects from the Roman period inside the museum.
Objects from the Roman period inside the valais history museum.

Hospice of the Great Saint Bernard


  • 🏛️: Hospice Museum. “Antiquity” section of the museum.
  • 📍: Great St Bernard Pass
  • 💲
  • 🔗: Hospice of the Great Saint Bernard
  • 🗿: Archaeological site of the “Plan of Jupiter”

The Great St Bernard Pass has been occupied by the Romans for 2,000 years. The latter built several buildings, including a temple where the statue of Bernard de Menthon is located on the Italian side. The hospice has a museum in one of its buildings next to the kennel where the famous dogs are kept in summer.

The site of the hospice of Grand-Saint-Bernard.
The site of the hospice of Grand-Saint-Bernard.

The part of the museum dedicated to the Roman period.
The part of the museum dedicated to the Roman period. Great St Bernard pass

Museum of Montreux


The Montreux Museum in the old town offers a small part of its museum on the ground floor during Roman times in the region.

The entrance of the Montreux Museum in a former winegrower’s house.
The entrance of the Montreux Museum in a former winegrower's house.

The part of the museum dedicated to the Roman period.
The part of the montreux museum dedicated to the Roman period.

Roman ruins


Among the most important Roman ruins that remain today are the amphitheatres of Martigny and Avenches. This last city has the most Roman ruins in Switzerland. Martigny and Vidy offer an archaeological visit of ruins while Geneva, due to urbanization, has only a few..

The Martigny amphitheatre.
The Martigny amphitheatre.

The most famous objects found in French-speaking Switzerland are the well-known Roman gold bust of Marcus Aurelius in Avenches and the three-horned bull’s head made of Valais bronze.

The replica of the bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at the Roman Museum in Avenches.
The replica of the bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius at the Roman Museum in Avenches.

The remains of the bronze bull with a leg and head in the Gallo-Roman museum of the Gianadda Foundation.
The remains of the bronze bull with a leg and head in the Gallo-Roman museum of the Gianadda Foundation.

Questions


Which are the best museums on the theme of the Romans (sites ⭐⭐⭐) ?

  • Roman museum of Avenches
  • Roman museum of Lausanne-Vidy
  • Roman Museum of Nyon
  • Geneva Museum of Art and History

What are the activities about the Romans with ⭐⭐ ?

  • Roman museum of Vallon
  • Gallo-roman museum of Martigny
  • Latenium
  • Cantonal Museum of Archaeology and History of Lausanne
  • Museum of Yverdon and its region

What are the activities about the Romans with ⭐ ?

  • Museum of Yverdon and its region
  • ArchéoLab and roman house of Pully
  • Abbey of Saint-Maurice
  • Museum of Valais History (Sion)
  • Hospice of the Great Saint Bernard
  • Museum of Montreux

Which sites are only dedicated to the Roman period ?

  • Roman museum of Avenches
  • Roman museum of Lausanne-Vidy
  • Roman museum of Nyon
  • Roman museum of Vallon
  • Mosaics of Orbe

What was the largest city in Switzerland during the Roman era ?

  • The city of Avenches was the largest city in present-day Switzerland with 20,000 inhabitants.

What are the most beautiful objects found dating from Roman times ?

  • The golden bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius
  • Martigny’s bronze calf’s head

Which museum has the best site on the Romans in French-speaking Switzerland ?

  • The Avenches Museum is the most interesting museum on the Romans in French-speaking Switzerland. It is free of charge.

Which museum has roman objects from regions outside French-speaking Switzerland ?

  • The Geneva Museum of Art and History is the only one in French-speaking Switzerland to have roman objects from outside French-speaking Switzerland donated by collectors.

Quels sont les musées sur l’époque romaine gratuits ?

  • Roman museum of Avenches
  • Geneva Museum of Art and History

What were the three Roman colonies in Switzerland ?

  • Augst (near Basel)
  • Avenches
  • Nyon